A Little Po’ Folks Food Treat for the 4th

Here are the bubbling grits with the Kraft cheese packet stirred in.

As most of you know, I grew up muddy-water-poor in a big family where feeding those mouths chirping like baby birds for a piece of the worm was the day’s No. 1 goal.

Here are the grits in a dish, awaiting the ‘fridge today and the frying pan tomorrow.

Mom had to improvise, since we had very little money, especially in the years after Dad died, leaving us nothing but bills and memories of a good man who suffered from alcoholism.

The story here, though, is not so much about Dad’s qualities, as it is about Mom’s resourcefulness reaching a level of creativity that sometimes the mind.

I don’t think Mom invented fried grits as an entree, but she sure as hell handed it down to me gift-wrapped. Today, I created my own 2020s adjustment to the original recipe that that does not improve its qualities as a health food (it doesn’t have any), but certainly gives it yet another iteration as a taste king.

This one, like Mom’s original, is easy. She simply boiled the grits, ladled in some butter, spread them on a cookie sheet and let them dry. Then she fried them in bacon fat, creating a french fry look and a wonderful taste.

I did all of that today, except that I added one ingredient: Kraft Macaroni and Cheese flavoring packet. I had one leftover in the Hubbard, having used the pasta for something else and it occurred to me today that if added to hot grits and blended nicely, it could create Mom’s grits with a new twist.

I haven’t finished yet (I still have to let them dry, slice them about four inches long and half an inch wide, then fry them in bacon fat), but I’m confident enough with the ultimate outcome tomorrow that I’m telling you about it now.

One piece of advice: Don’t coverage. This dish is full of carbs and fat and while it will definitely fit the taste box, it isn’t very healthy. That, in this case, makes it a reward, not an entre.


A Mixed Bag on Mill Mountain This Morning

This is probably the best view of Roanoke from Mill Mountain. At least Appalachian Power thinks so (note its transmission lines).

Mill Mountain Trail presented some delights this morning, along with its usual rocky road annoyance. This is the trail that leads up to the Roanoke icon, the Mill Mountain Star, and its broad view of Roanoke as if the overlook were an airplane looking for a place to land. It is probably the most photographed spot in the Roanoke Valley.

These are my wineberries. They basically fell into my bag.

The delight this morning was a patch of wineberries, ripe, tasty, and ready for the picking–which I did. I brought home about a pint of them and they are sweet, bright red, and totally delightful.

Let me also mention that I had a good, sweaty, muscle-stretching hike and I enjoyed nearly every minute of it.


Mimosa is my favorite flowering tree and it is prominent on top of Mill Mountain.
The rocky pathway makes Mill Mountain a much less desirable hike than I prefer. Turned ankles are the least of it.
More power line mania, interrupting some real beauty.
The Mill Mountain Star in its blue period.
A young couple looks for landmarks from the Mill Mountain overlook.
Rocks everywhere. Can turned ankles be far behind?

Doing Cool Stuff Not So Easy These Days

Here’s the “cargo” couch, built using cast-off materials.

A few days ago, I came across a photo of a couch I built in the 1970s. It was an interesting piece, following the “cargo” design and I put it together with scrap lumber given me by the foreman at a home construction site. The fabric I used came from rejects at a mill.

My boy, Evan, and me as carpenters.

It was heavy, solid and ugly–a perfect sofa for a single guy in a small apartment. I gave it to a friend for his birthday. Ultimately, he sold it.

That led me to think about all the stuff I’ve built over time, and it began to add up. Consider:

I’ve built four decks and two front porches, roofed a house, built (with my son and a neighbor) a nice utility building (photo above).

I used to work on my car doing routine stuff like replacing brake pads, changing oil, tuning up and repairing small malfunctions like torn upholstery, replacing various lights, changing tires, replacing solenoid switches and the many tasks we used to be able to perform ourselves before the engines became so complex that only computer techs could work on them.

I once sewed a parka from scratch for a newspaper story and it turned out well. I discovered that sewing is very much like carpentry in that it requires full concentration and furnishes real satisfaction when finished.

I’ve always had a garden and I have no idea how many trees (mostly fruit trees) I’ve planted over the years, but recent weather patterns have made that much more difficult. You almost have to be an agronomist to grow a damn tomato plant these days. Climate change is real and it’s a bitch.

Truth be told, I don’t really know what the purpose of this little rant-ette is, but here it is.


New Virginia Laws in Effect July 1

In just a few days, you will strongly feel the new direction Virginia is taking with its Democratic Party in charge. Here is some of what you can expect (according to journalist Caleb Stewart):

  • The long-awaited Equal Rights Amendment was passed, giving the necessary 38 votes to become law, but Republicans don’t want it and are suing.
  • Gun Control laws passed include:

Universal background checks

Extreme Risk Protective Order, allowing authorities to temporarily take guns away from people deemed to be dangerous

Reinstates Virginia’s one-handgun-a-month law

Requires gun owners to report their lost or stolen firearms to law enforcement within 48 hours or face a civil penalty

Toughens the penalty for leaving a loaded, unsecured firearm
in a reckless manner that endangers a child

Gives local governments more authority to ban guns in public

Bars people with protective orders against them from possessing firearms and requires them to turn over their guns within 24 hours

  • Lee Jackson Day will no longer be a Virginia holiday.
  • Local governments across Virginia will officially have the authority to remove or contextualize Confederate monuments on their town, city, or county property.
  • The ‘Virginia Values Act’ adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the commonwealth’s antidiscrimination law.
  • Virginia is the first state to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ
    youth. The Commonwealth makes it easier to change a person’s name and gender on a birth certificate and requires the Department of Education create and implement policies concerning the treatment of transgender students in public schools.
  • The Republican abortion restrictions law has been rolled back,  including a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion can be performed and a requirement that women seeking an abortion undergo an ultrasound and counseling. The measure also undoes the requirement that abortions be provided by a physician, allowing nurse practitioners to perform them, and does away with strict building code requirements on facilities where abortions are performed.
  • Criminal charges for simple possession of marijuana will be scrapped and replaced with a $25 civil penalty. Medical cannibus was legalized.
  • Insurers will be limited to charging a maximum of $50 a month for insulin in Virginia, giving the commonwealth the fourth lowest cap in the country.
  • Virginians will no longer need to show a photo ID in order to vote by this November. Voters will no longer need to provide an excuse from a pre-approved list to cast an absentee ballot in Virginia.
  • Students living in the U.S. without documentation but who still meet Virginia residency standards, will be eligible for in-state tuition at Virginia colleges and universities.
  • The requirement that drivers licenses be suspended if court fees are not paid will be repealed.

Roanoke Valley Schools Need To Re-Think Names

The worst of the lot: William Byrd
James Breckinridge
William Fleming
James Madison
Patrick Henry

While we’re having some serious discussions about which war hero statues need to be removed, let’s look close to home at which schools in (or near) the Roanoke Valley need to be re-named.

We can start, of course, with Washington & Lee University in Lexington which was named for two slave-owners, one of which was the leading Confederate general during the Civil War. But we all know about Generals Washington and Lee.

I doubt George Washington’s legacy will get much criticism because he was “the father of the country,” but if we’re going to tear down statues of slave owners, his probably should be among the first to go.

Let’s talk about those notables under the radar in most places, but who remind us daily of where we came from.

In Roanoke City and Roanoke County James Breckinridge Middle School, William Fleming High School, Patrick Henry High School, William Byrd High School, and James Madison Middle School are all named for slave-holders.

The controversial Stonewall Jackson Middle School name was changed a year ago to John Fishwick Middle School because Jackson was a Civil War general. (Jackson also illegally taught young black children to read, which is noted on a stained glass window of an African-American church in Roanoke. Fishwick was a noted Roanoke Valley businessman and scion of a prominent and honorable family.)

Of all those names on schools above, probably the worst was William Byrd, who not only owned slaves but also did “vast” business in procuring and selling them, according to

Worthy of dishonorable mention is Woodrow Wilson Junior High. President Wilson could not own slaves because it was outlawed during the Civil War, but he was a noted racist, born and raised in Staunton.

Lucy Addison Middle School is the only local school named for an honorable human being. She was an African-American educator in Roanoke who lived quite a notable life.


The Backyard Garden is Chugging Along

The Staymens, my favorite apple, seem to be doing well.

Looks like there’s some progress among my edible plants and trees … finally. The growing season has been so wet that it has discouraged growth, flowering, and creating fruit among most of my edibles, but the sun over the past few days is having a positive impact.

Tomatoes have been slow to grow, but there are a lot of flowers now.

I have Staymen apples, concord grapes, black cherries (all gone, thanks to the damn birds), blueberries, as well as a garden with Italian basil, white and green cucumbers, figs, four varieties of heritage tomatoes, red bell peppers and some spices. I planted all of it and have seen mixed results over the years.

Right now, the main ingredient (tomatoes) is growing slowly, but steadily and I’m holding out hope after nearly giving up a couple of weeks ago. The squirrels seem to like my apples, so I put up screening on them (the screening captured a bird when it was on the blueberries).

We’ll see how it goes.

My back yard contains a lot of food.
The basil goes nicely with the tomatoes.
This is the first promising sign from the cucumbers.
Netting saved the blueberries. I don’t recall the last time I got a handful.

Standoff Ends, Charged Man Identified

Police officials review the scene of the standoff. Note the destroyed front door. I was told to stop shooting because I needed to be behind the media tape, even though I live four houses away.

Police arrested a man four houses down from my home on Edinburgh Drive in Roanoke a short while ago and his name is John Burch, 51. Police had warrants for Burch for aggravated malicious wounding and abduction following what they said was a domestic assault. A woman was hospitalized with “non-life-threatening” injuries.

He was barricaded inside his home and armed, police verified.

This young WDBJ7 TV reporter, Lindsay Cayne, prepares to give a live report just up the hill from the police standoff.

I heard police call Burch’s name several times yesterday on their loudspeaker from the tactical vehicle being used. It sounded like ordering at McDonald’s, to be honest, so I couldn’t swear it was “Burch” in an earlier post.

The standoff lasted from Sunday afternoon until about 10 a.m. Monday.  It was mostly a case of waiting out Burch until he saw the futility of his situation. A police officer told me he is armed with an AR-15 and a shotgun.

I had earlier information that Burch was related to a family in Fincastle with a shady history of law-breaking, but I still have not verified that.



Police Make Arrest in Edinburgh Standoff

This is the press at the top of the hill. You’ll note that it hasn’t exactly been an exhilarating experience for them. (Check the dude on the left.)*

UPDATE: Police arrested a man wanted on a felony warrant four doors down from me on Edinburgh Drive just a little after 10 a.m. today. He is in custody and shortly, I should be free to get some exercise. Nobody was hurt, but a lot of people are suffering from a severe case of boredom. There are no details on who the man is, but apparently the warrant for him was issued in Roanoke County, which drove him away in a county police car.)

The police standoff with an armed neighbor of mine being served a felony warrant continues this morning with little movement either way after a quiet night.

Police cars, including a monstrous-looking tactical vehicle, remain in place. The tactical vehicle moves occasionally, setting off the beep when it backs up, but that’s just about the only noise you can attribute to the police force, which remains mostly hidden. Occasionally, a group of heavily armored (and armed) SWAT-looking dudes walk by my house, but I think that’s mostly shift change.

The tactical vehicle is in the accused man’s front yard and moves occasionally, setting off a loud beeping noise.

The neighborhood is normally a loud one with lots of mowers, leaf blowers, string trimmers, and chain saws going full steam through the day and into the evening. This morning there’s some kind of loud work going on a couple of blocks away, so the drama being played out on Edinburgh Drive isn’t keeping people from doing what they do, working where they work.

Last night, as has been the habit between 9:30 and 11 for about the past 10 days, some of my neighbors illegally set off fireworks. The police didn’t seem concerned. Once when a group of very loud explosives went off, sounding like gunfire, I was pretty concerned. But when I went outside, the officers were stationary and didn’t even seem to hear the fireworks.

From what I’ve been able to gather from the loudspeaker on the tactical vehicle which occasionally demands that the suspect give himself up, his name is something like John Birch or Burch. The police aren’t releasing his name or his alleged offense. I was told by one of the young officers yesterday that he was armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and a shotgun and that he was considered dangerous.

Right now, it’s a waiting game and I’m waiting to be able to get outside the house (I’m shooting photos from my porches where I can see the accused’s house on one end and the police blockade on the other). I really need to get some exercise.

(*You might note that in the photos I have published, nobody–nobody at all–is wearing a mask.)


Guns and Tempers: I’m in Lockdown

These cops are about 20 yards from my house, keeping people in and out.

(UPDATE, 9:50 p.m.: “John Burch, this is the Roanoke City Police. We have a warrant for your arrest. Come to the front door with your hands held high.” A flurry of fireworks went off just before police told the man their are confronting four doors down from my house to give himself up. We’ve had a spate of firework shows for the past couple of weeks at this time, but tonight’s sounded like a shootout.)

I had noticed police activity outside my house since about 2 p.m. today and early on when I went outside to roll up my car windows against a sudden rain, a young officer zipped over and asked what I was doing. I told her and she said to go ahead and close the windows but to get back in the house and not to leave unless I meant to stay gone for the day.

I’m curious, but I was tired and mostly disinterested. By 4:15 my interest had increased as I saw some cops in battle gear walking by my windows and the same group on the top of my hill (and at the bottom as well). So, I pulled out my press card and went up to the officers on the hill with questions.

The young woman who stopped me asked if I lived close and I pointed to my house two doors away (we had talked earlier, but I must not have made much of an impression). I handed her my card and asked what was going on; I said she could answer me as a journalist or a resident. Made no dif, but I’l like to know if there was some danger.

Apparently, there is. A guy about four doors down from me (whom I have never met) had barricaded himself in his house with an AR-15 and a shotgun, the young officer said, and the situation was dangerous and unstable. She wanted me to either get on the other side of the police tape and join the journalists or go back to my house. I did both, talking to the reporters for a few minutes, then going back home 30 yards away. She walked me back to the house. I asked if she wanted to hold my hand. She said no.

This will likely go on for a while and I think I’ll just stay inside.


A Dry Walk on the Greenway

My hiking buddy Susan takes a photo of one of the swimming holes along Wolf Creek.
This bog old boy didn’t make it through the flood. Don’t know if he drowned or died of old age.

Finally found a dry pathway along the Roanoke Valley greenway system. This one is on the east end of Vinton at Goode Park and runs probably a mile and a half.

It is an attractive, calming little walk with a creek, a farm (with a number of animals the kids can pet), a mini-waterfall, a couple of swimming holes and, yesterday, a large dead turtle.

Not exactly an adventure of the first magnitude, but at a time when there are few choices, a decent alternative.

This farm is a real highlight for the kids when the animals are out. They are friendly and enjoy being petted.
Susan shot this weed flower and I can’t ID it.
The little waterfall just under the bridge is a great place for a photo.
Here’s the waterfall with some additional light patterns.
Susan was intent on getting a photo of me in the shadows.
Wolf Creek Trail is tree-lined, smooth, and calming.