Getting Serious at Mill Mountain Theatre

It doesn’t get much more serious than the Holocaust and Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Theatre is taking on that always heartbreaking, always current topic next weekend (Sept. 8-9) with its script-in-hand reading of “The Little Lion.”

This play was written by Virginian Irene Zeigler, based on the novel by Nancy Wright Beasley of Richmond. It is scheduled Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 8 p.m.

The story is set in a Lithuanian Jewish ghetto in World War II and deals with a family’s efforts to survive. It is based on actual events and concentrates on the efforts of a teenage boy, Laibale Gillman, who is known as The Little Lion, based on his courage and efforts to protect his family. The Lion is played by Christopher Castanho, who was on stage at MMt recently in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (in which I also appeared, for those counting such things).

The rest of the case includes Roanoke theater veterans Ed Sala and Mary Jean Levin, as well as MMT conservatory students, the MMT education staff and Cole Smith, a star of the upcoming “Little Shop of Horrors” at the theater.

Tickets are $15 and are expected to sell briskly (the Saturday performance is  nearly sold out already). Call 540-342-5740 or visit here for tickets.

Happy 6th Birthday Grandboy Oz

Oz on the way to school for the first time.

Today is my little buddy Oz’s sixth birthday and there was a time when we wondered–seriously–if he’d make it this far. But he has; he’s healthy, happy, robust, curious, active and, above all else, a good little boy.

He was born with lungs that didn’t work the way they were supposed to, but with intense and loving care from his mom and dad, he finally overcame that and gained a toughness and will to live that will serve him well as he grows up. Oz has become a happy little creature, bouncing and climbing, running and making little boy noise, hugging and sharing.

When I call on Facetime, Oz jumps in front of the phone–ahead of all others–to show me his latest action figure or dinosaur or movie character toy. His toys have names and he simply loves to construct/destruct things. I sent him a set of Tinker Toys for his birthday and, although his dad will hate me for it, I suspect Oz will have them spread out all over the house in short order.

Happy birthday, little man. I’m glad you’re my grandboy.

(Photo: Kara Smith.)


Militarizing Local Police … To What End?

Americans don’t trust a militarized police force.

If you have the impression that about 75 percent of everything Donald Trump does or says is to either piss of liberals or to wipe out Barack Obama’s legacy, I suspect you’re right. Little thought goes into his executive orders, other than to know what Obama would have done/did and to reverse that.

Such is the case of handing over surplus military equipment to local police departments, thus militarizing the nation’s police forces–and, in effect, giving Trump more enforcement power when he wants it.

Wornie Reed, the dorector of Virginia Tech’s Race and Social Policy Center, says, “It is difficult if not impossible to gain community trust when communities are treated like enemies under occupation. Military-style equipment is rarely needed for public safety.”

Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended reducing the program that transfers surplus military equipment to police forces, “because this can be problematic …

“Having armored tanks redefines the relationship between the police and the public, which police are charged with protecting. Many citizens and officials have called for shifts in law enforcement’s approach toward community policing and trust building. It is difficult if not impossible to gain community trust when communities are treated like enemies under occupation.”

Reed says, “The militarization of policing is exacerbating the current issue of the appropriate use of force by the police. When police use military-type weapons and tactics in response to demonstrations, they risk infringing on the First Amendment rights of citizens.”


Madeline: A Rock Star Is (Being) Born

Maddie took this selfie while performing.

Seems my best girl is following in her dad’s musical steps. Madeline has been learning guitar for several years and now she’s taking the big step into becoming Bonnie Raitt.

Maddie took her first rock ‘n’ roll singing class last week and although she has a long way to go (project, girl!), the interest is there and she has a nice presence.

Her dad has been playing one instrument or another since he was about seven and is quite good on the bass. Last time I counted, he played seven instruments and sang, mostly harmony.

A Morning at the Highland Games

When Scots cleared the fields, the rocks could be large.

These competitors had one leg between them.

The annual Highland Games of the Roanoke Valley are today in Salem and my friend Susan and I took our cameras over for a look-see. These are colorful games with plenty of ancient competitions that we’re not necessarily familiar with, but which came from the farm chores of early Scotland.

I have two clans (Buchanans and McCourrys), both of which have god-awful-looking tartans, but, hey, they’re family.

Some of the Scots …

The McCourrys actually came here from the Isle of Mull (nearly all of them) and are a newer clan, whose name was actually spelled Macquarrie (and sometimes still is). Like so many names in this country, it was changed. Susan also has a clan on her father’s side, she said.

Here is a little of what it looked like from 9 a.m. until about noon when we split for other corners of the Valley.

… were Vikings. This one’s Erin Langheim. (Susan’s photo.)

The hammer throw.

This bale went up over a 16-foot bar.

The muscles were big, on men and women.

Old warhorses talked military strategy.

The bagpipe ain’t pretty; the players sometimes are.

This is my family tartan. I can’t help it. I didn’t pick it.

This holds up my family’s kilt.

This is my new pal Brent Williams, a Presbyterian minister and a Buchanan. (Susan’s pix.)

Women competitors chat between tosses.

Watching the games and picking sides.

This is pulled (wild) pheasant, which was lunch.

Mr. Douglas at attention.

Footwear for the heavy hammer competition. Yes, that’s a blade. It keeps the thrower stable.

My old buddy Jeff Rigdon: Mr. Roanoke Viking.

Some of these dudes could easily pass for the Super one …

… others could pass for, well, clowns.

Susan and I bought scones, but the choices were lovely.

Susan was photographing me here. Guess what I was photographing?

Women drummers drip with cool. (Susan’s pix.)

You take the high road and I’ll take the low road, and I’ll be in Dublin a-fore ye.

Glass artisan at work.

Have a drink on the Buchanans (or of the Buchanan’s).

Five Years Ago: A New Life for Me

After (note the metal, left).

Before (crooked legged old man).

I knew there was an anniversary in here somewhere, but it wasn’t until Facebook reminded me of a post I wrote five years ago today that I was able to precisely pin it down. August 17, 2012. That’s when I had my knee replaced. The anniversary, according to FB, was recovery. So I went looking and found the day.

I actually searched yesterday, thinking it was maybe three years ago. Funny thing about age: everything is condensed, so five years seems a hell of a lot closer than it actually.

I had the surgery in the morning and by the afternoon I was walking. that’s not so much about how strong I am as it is about the demand of modern medicine to get your butt up and going. I actually climbed steps before 3 p.m. on surgery day. And I wrote a blog post (speaking of obsessive/compulsive behavior):

Not exactly a neat trim.

“Back from my first walk, feelin’ frisky. Got the bionic knee this morning and now I can take Madeline flying. Quite an ordeal, but professional, cheerful and talented people have made this as pleasant as possible so far. I’ll blog more later, but I’m at the end of my energy now …”

The first drug-addled post I wrote was so bad that my friend Leah said, “I think maybe we’d better wait a little while until the drugs wear off before we post this, Dan.” She smiled and closed the laptop. I went to sleep.

This surgery is the third best physical action I’ve ever taken personally, behind quitting drinking and smoking. It has had a major influence on my overall health and attitude toward everything. I am doing things now–at 71–that I couldn’t do at 50, some that I didn’t do at 30. It is a lot of work, but it is worth the pain and effort. I promise.

Note: I went into surgery at 5-feet-9 3/4-inches tall, and came out (with the insert) at 5-10 1/4, a gain of half an inch. I used to round off my height to 5-10. Now I round it off to 6-feet-2.

Doing what I do: blogging.


Looking pitiful, but ready to walk … and run.

An Homage to Local Art from Carilion

My dear friend Nancy Agee, who is president and CEO of Carilion Clinic, one of the region’s largest employers, has always loved art. That love has now resulted in the big (9X12 inches, 115 pages), lavish volume titled Healing Art in the Blue Ridge.

Her art interest is now  and always has been a recognition of the power of healing in all the arts, especially the visual arts. Carilion has a collection of more than 1,000 pieces, gathered over the years and displayed in its hospitals. It is the kind of patient- and employee-centered detail that makes hospitals more pleasant than one might expect.

Nancy calls the collection “a source of great personal pride” and says that it features “works that reflect the natural beauty and cultural diversity of our area by artists by artists whose names you’re sure to recognize” because most are local. It is that local concentration that most captivates me because our local art community–which like our writers is superb–is often ignored by big institutions (including local governments) in favor of national “names.”

This is a lovely book and an appropriate homage to the art community from Carilion in general, and Nancy Agee, who proves to be more of a hero daily, in particular.

Happy Birthday, Ev; Happy Anniversary, Me

Evan with Oz.

Today marks my son’s 43rd birthday and my 53rd year as a working journalist. Don’t know what one has to do with the other, except that they share the same “birthday,” but there it is.

Evan has grown up to make me proud, becoming an accomplished professional with a huge international company (ABB, a transformer manufacturer based in Zurich, factories in 43 countries) and one of the best fathers I’ve ever known. He’s a good role model for Madeline  and Oz, as well. And he’s a dang good guy.

My career in journalism began more as a lark than anything else. I was working at a barbecue fast-food restaurant in Asheville, having left  school, and my mother saw the restaurant as an absolute dead end for me, although my dad spent most of his career in kitchens. “Why don’t you go down to the newspaper and see if you can get a job in the sports department?” she said one afternoon (realizing, perhaps, that Dad had been sports editor of Virginia Tech’s newspaper).

Me, the young sports writer.

“Mom, I can’t even type,” I said, incredulous. “They also require a degree to write for a living and I’ve never passed a single course.”

“Well,” said Mom, “you never know until you try. You’ve been writing since you could walk.”

I began working the next evening, Aug. 22, 1964, as a copy boy at the Asheville Citizen-Times. The job had come open at just about the moment Mom suggested I go check out the paper. She was good with things like intuition. The young man who held the copy boy job had moved on to the newsroom and later became the executive editor.

And me? I moved on to half a century (so far) working in a field I dearly love.

A Day for Religion and Spirituality

Fishermen on the dock at Carvins Cove. Their lines catch the rising sun.

Trees reflect off the rocks on the bottom.

My friend Susan and I have gone on something of a spiritual pilgrimage over the past 24 hours that has included Hindus, Buddhists and the Holy Church of Our Mother of Carvins Cove. For me, the Cove said it best.

Boats in the reflection. (Susan’s photo.)

We began with the Taste of India Festival downtown in Roanoke yesterday (see previous post), then got up this morning to visit the cove as the sun was coming up. THAT is the very definition of spirituality and religion in our world, we agreed.

We followed the Cove (where we shot copious photos) with a trip to a Buddhist temple in Roanoke, something I have never before done, but Susan has. It reminded me a great deal of an AA meeting (with which I am quite familiar), especially with this morning’s message of acceptance and embracing what life offers.

Quite an adventure, this.

(Margie, by the way, was working this weekend, for those wondering.)

This fisherman (shot by Susan) has the feel of a Winslow Homer painting.

Susan paddling.

Susan caught the light just right on this point.

Susan shows me where to shoot.

This web contained a lot of food for Mr. Spider.

This is about as serene as it gets on Carvin’s Cove.