It’s Back to Church for My Pal and Me

Susan shot this of me jumping the creek. I like the shot. Shows an old man still able to do cool stuff.

Susan and me celebrating Sunday.

It’s been a few weeks since my friend Susan and I celebrated our Sunday with our version of church, but yesterday, we managed to not only commune with nature in our own celebration of the spiritual, but we found a delightful breakfast before we entered the woods.

After a search that eliminated three different breakfast spots in downtown (or near downtown) Roanoke because they didn’t open until 10 a.m., we settled on Scrambled on City Market and found its food and ambiance to our liking.

Then it was off to the greenway to celebrate Sunday morning with glorious color, a brook that defined “babbling” and back to Grandin Village for lunch at the Co-Op. It was a lovely day and I got to see my friend, whom I have missed, for nearly five hours. Good stuff that.

Susan’s photo of what we’re celebrating.

Pampa digs church.

Trolleys and Trains and Greenways, Oh, My!

That’s the trolley between rail cars.

Went down to Carilion Riverside this morning to have some blood work done and after being stuck and withdrawn, I went for a little walk along the greenway. Along the way, I ran into this train and the Carilion trolley on the other side.

I needed to pick up some theater tickets, so I hitched a ride on the trolley and got dropped off downtown, a seven-minute ride and no problems parking. Only thing was, Mill Mountain Theatre is closed Mondays, so the trip was fruitless. Except that riding that little bus-ette is a lot of fun.

Nice view of the end of the train.

A Book for Your Christmas Stocking (At a Real Deal)

Here’s a Christmas gift tip for those of you who want something local, full of heritage and wildly entertaining:

Today, BookBub, the website that features some of the best reading available in the country for a price that is absurd on the low end, is featuring my friend Leah Weiss’ book “If the Creek Don’t Rise” for a fraction of its cover price (something like $2.50). It would make a great Yule gift.

Kirkus reviews calls the book “A beguiling, compelling read … This Appalachian tale is a strong, formidable novel for readers of William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy.” Strongly reminiscent in tone and language of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” A work of art in words. Leah lives in Lynchburg and the book is on its way to becoming a best seller.

I told you about this book as Leah was writing it and it is receiving the high praise I thought it would  from a diverse set of reviewers at every level..

Fall: One Last Burst of Color

This spectacular (if crippled) Bradford pear tree greeted me out the kitchen window this morning as I made coffee. It is the last gasp of one of the more colorful falls in my memory.

I recall in August and through September saying, “We’re not going to have a fall this year. Too hot, too dry.” And then the weather cooled and the rain came, producing color that was more New England than Appalachia.

This old pear tree has been battered by wind for years and last year pretty well split in half, but it’s still pretty, so I’m not cutting it down until I have to.

A Brief, Memorable Visit

Madeline pushes her lazy little brother.

My son’s family goes back to Memphis tomorrow, unofficially halfway across America, and leaves me with some pretty good photos of our time at Thanksgiving, 2017.

I like these quick intense visits, though I would really like having them around more, so Madeline and I could hang out and Evan and I could talk football. But, as Ev says, “It is what it is.” And what it is now is these photos.

Evan with Maddie and her mom at the skating rink.

Maddie hit the deck, but later skated quite well.

Evan liked the little penguin.

Oz ready to take off down the ice run …

… and here comes Oz.

A father-daughter stroll on the ice.

A hug from grandma.

Mom and Dad enjoying being parents.

Maddie at a video game in the pinball museum.

Evan looks like a pro.

Oz has his own way of playing.

The family that plays (pinball) together, stays together.

Group action at the pinball museum.

A Lovely Day with the Pampettes

Maddie and me and the Christmas tree.

Oz chows down on a City Market snow cone.

Yesterday was the kind of warm, sunny fall weekend day that I often imagine spending with the Pampettes (my grandkids) and for a change, the reality of the day matched the imagination of what it should be.

There was nothing fancy going on, but when I see the kids only twice a year, each moment is precious.

My son Evan, grandboy Oz and I spent some time downtown eating, exploring and introducing Oz to the ice skate park at Elmwood, which was ready to attack, skates or no. He’ll get to do that today.

Oz and Evan showed me the gym at their downtown hotel.

Madeline and I spent some time together in the afternoon talking about Important Things (how screwed up school is) and  putting up my little white Christmas tree, something we’ve done often in the past.

The job consists of retrieving the tree from basement and plugging it in. She did that and I cleared the space. But hey, not every chore has to be complex.

Today: more of the same.

Oz loves the ice skating park in downtown Roanoke.

That’s me stealing some of Oz’s “Tiger Blood” snow cone. (Oz shot the photo.)

This lovely woman remembered Oz from when he visited this past summer.

Oz and Pampa pause for a pose.

Evan coaxing a reluctant Oz to eat some Indian food. (My plate is on the right.)

My buddy found something he liked: mango pudding.

Oz grabbed my camera and shot this of his dad.

Thanksgiving: A Time To, Uh, Pig Out

Margie and me with our over-filled plates. We ate the whole thing (and she did pecan pie, too).

Evan and Margie try the wine.

So I’ve already written about how thankful I am and now we can get down to the serious issue of the season: eating, which I often do very well.

Yesterday we met in late afternoon at my daughter-in-law’s dad’s house for a pig-out with nearly everybody contributing a dish or two … or three. As mentioned, I provided the mac and cheese and a moist cornbread turkey dressing, but the table was over-filled (running over onto the kids’ table) with turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, Southern green beans, rolls, wondrous cranberry relish (with a whole orange ground up into it) and sundry other items. There was plenty of pecan pie, which I can’t eat. Margie compensated for my inability on the pie.

Grandboy Oz and me.

Margie provided red and white wine and my son (who partially put himself through college as something of a wine expert in a high-end liquor store in Knoxville) pronounced it “good.” That’s about as flattering as Evan gets.

There was not a single mention of politics or you-know-who, for which I was grateful. It was all about family … and eating.

Now, it’s about getting back to my exercise routine, which took a vacation for the past five days or so and for which I am paying a premium.

Two of my favorite people of the female persuasion: Maddie and Margie. Look at those smiles.

Even placing the mac ‘n’ cheese; Maddie anticipating munching on it.


Daughter-in-law Kara and her mom, Judy, chowing down.


Thanksgiving: A Country That Is Still Ours

Preparing Mother Smith’s World Famous turkey dressing.

Giving thanks on November 23, 2018–Thanksgiving Day–is more difficult than it has been in the recent past. For a year, we have either had Donald Trump in the Oval Office or were getting ready for him to occupy it and sadness, fear and dread have permeated many of the living rooms of America.

The dressing is ready. Now, the turkey.

Donald Trump has delivered far beyond even the wildest expectations of most of us, becoming the worst president, not only in our history, but the worst most of us can imagine. We thought George Bush had established that bar so low that nobody could surpass him on the low end. We were terribly–perhaps even fatally–wrong.

I won’t belabor the issue because you are living it, too, but I will say that in spite of Donald Trump’s best shot, we have a country and a people worth fighting for. We are not defeated by the dark forces of the worst of us and the good in the American people will prevail ultimately, if not immediately.

Today, I get to see most of my family (my daughter, sadly, won’t be there) and I will take the predictable grandfather’s pride in the Pampettes (Madeline and Oz). We’ll eat too much, laugh too hard, tell a few exaggerated stories and give advice that Maddie and Oz will ignore. That’s the way it works in the America I love.

Donald Trump’s America? Your guess is as good as mine.

Mother Smith’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese (with bacon drippings) is done.

Doug Doughty in Dynamic Hall of Fame Class

That’s a young Doughty (right), Bill Brill and me (mustache) in the center at a Virginia high school all-star game in the 1970s at the Salem Civic Center.

Just saw where my long-time journalism colleague Doug Doughty was named to the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in a truly distinguished class that includes Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer, Tech baseball coach Chuck Hartman and basketball player/announcer Kara Lawson. They’re all more famous than Doug, but none is more accomplished.

A young Doughty at the Roanoke Civic Center.

Doug and I worked at the Roanoke Times sports department together in the late 1970s, him joining us just out of college at UVa where he was Phi Beta Kappa. I’m a few years older and had been at the RT for several years when he was hired.

From the beginning, Doug was good, intensely interested, ambitious and a guy who never lost his enthusiasm. He approaches junior golf and the Masters with the same interest and attention to detail. He has covered UVa sports for many years, never letting his degree from there interfere with being fair and neutral.

Doug latched on to sports editor Bill Brill (inducted into the Hall in 1999) from Day 1 and learned a great deal from the best newspaper sports writer/editor I ever knew. He still knows how to write to the reader, how to present news first and opinion somewhere down the list. I’ve never seen his ego overwhelm a story, which is rare in sports writing.

Doughty and a couple of drinking buddies.

He married his college sweetie, Beth, after she graduated and she became quite a professional force in the Roanoke Valley pretty quickly after moving here, beginning in advertising/PR and working up to the executive director’s position and in 2016 was named one of North America’s top 50 economic developers by Consultant Connect. She heads the Roanoke Regional Partnership and has been director of the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce. She and Doug have a bunch of kids, who are making names of their own.

Doug has always kept his personal and professional lives separate, but if there were a Roanoke Valley Swimming Hall of Fame, my guess is that he’d be one of its first inductees because of his intense connection with every level of swim competition in the Valley since his kids were, well, kids. He even recruited my grandgirl, Madeline, to the Hunting Hills squad when Maddie couldn’t even swim. It was a real highlight for her and I’m forever grateful to Doug for being so insistent.

Doug deserves the Hall citation every bit as much as Beamer. Know that.

Doughty with wife of 35 years, Beth (right) and daughter Allison.

Fewer Foreign Students: Look to Trump

29 percent of foreign college students are from China.

A story in today’s Washington Post reveals that enrollment of foreign students in U.S. colleges and universities is on the decline, not a complete surprise given the Trump Administration’s ban on foreign visitors.

The data show about a seven percent drop for the current fiscal year, down for the first time in a while, but Trump has been president for less than a year, so its reflection of his policies is more pronounced.

Foreign students by and large pay full retail for their U.S. college experience, something few American students do. A high official at Virginia Tech told me a few years ago that foreign students help compensate for the General Assembly’s parsimonious approach to college funding. “We have to have them,” he said at the time. “It helps us break even.” And it helps explain why your son or daughter didn’t make the cut in the engineering program, which is in high demand internationally.

The University of Florida (whose graduate programs have been affected) provost Joseph Glover is quoted as saying, “If it represents the beginning of a downward trend, that could represent a serious problem for the nation. It’s something that we’re watching with great concern.”

If we lose a lot of these retail students, something has to give. The government will have to come up with the subsidies these students are paying; colleges will have to trim staff and programs; their building programs will suffer; they will simply be poorer.

Xenophobia comes with a price.

(Photo: U.S. News.)