Scaring the Knee-Biters on ‘Ween

Cruella Demargie.

OK, so the time is nigh and Halloween knee-biters are only a few steps from my door–where I will scare the ever-lovin’ shit out of them. I just love it when the four-year-olds jump off the front porch, screaming, into the arms of their PO’d mothers. Hey, it’s Halloween.

Margie came by a while ago wearing her famous Cruella Deville costume (her workplace was a Disney studio today with all the characters). I am dressed as something of a Dracula/bad dude hybrid that I threw together. I went through a bunch of stuff, including my trusty Whoopie Cushion costume, but my pal wouldn’t let me wear it to a party Saturday, saying it probably wouldn’t be met with smiles by mothers of the kiddies.

Me. I was going to do Donald Trump, but I thought that too scary for young children.

Celebrating Dogs, Mules and Horses at Folklife Fest

The wildly enthusiastic (and loud) coon dogs take off after what they believe to be a raccoon …

… and they swim hard to corner their prey. (The coon dog area sounded a lot like my neighborhood.)

This baying pup was barking up the right tree.

My friend Susan and I were to have met at the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival in Ferrum yesterday on a photo expedition of the kind we just love. The festival is one of the region’s truly colorful events, full of animals, machines, food, music and cultural history of the first order.

But when we got there, we found no cell service, so we couldn’t find each other (I was there for three hours, she for two) and it was frustrating because I think we feed off each other’s enthusiasm.

Anyhow, I ran my best photos from Ferrum yesterday in my blog and here are some of the best Susan shot. She explained: “Mule jumping: the black mule with white stockings [which I photographed, but the mule was so active, all were blurred] won the jump at 42 inches. (See the winning jump photo below.) The sorrel mule, love the butt shot, looks just like a mule’s hind end.

“The ‘light’ horse pulling teams went before the ‘heavy’ teams. ‘Light’ and ‘heavy’ teams, means how much the horses weigh, not how many pounds they pull. A bystander told me that he has seen ‘light’ horse teams pull more weight than the ‘heavy’ teams to win overall.
“He said the sorrel ‘light’ team in my picture are Suffolk Punch and they are pulling 3,000 pounds on the sled, and the competition has just started. He said, on a good day, under the right conditions (not mud) he has seen teams pull up to 13,000 pounds! It took a tractor to load the sled with the concrete weights.”

This mule was the winner of the jump at 42 inches.

Susan liked her “butt shot” here. Me, too.

These big, elegant animals carry tons of weight on the sled.

Black horses parade around the competition ring.

Father and son team up to handle their beautiful pair of horses.

A Day of Mountain Culture at Ferrum

Hog butchering is a fact of farm life and we got a belly full of it (note the head on the table).

Found my redhead of the day right off the bat.

Ferrum College’s Blue Ridge Folklife Festival is an annual celebration of the ways of our mountains and today’s version was equally a celebration of our rain. It poured 2.5 inches of rain on the Blue Ridge Institute’s farm fields, creating a quagmire and keeping what is generally an overflow crowd to a manageable level–probably less than half the usual size.

There wasn’t even a traffic jam this year, if you get the picture.

Still, entertainment–whether you wanted to watch a leather worker make a belt (he did; for me), a brace of huge horses pull a sled, a mule jump, a hound swim or try to climb a pole, a team of country people cook cornbread and pintos, a roots music duo wail away, a knife maker work his magic or a steam powered tractor operate–was plentiful.

Billy Clements and his homemade 1901 car. He built it from scratch. That’s his grandfather’s tractor behind him.

I was especially taken with 74-year-old Billy Clements, whose family owns the tractor dealership up the road, and whose contribution to the festival was a 1901 replica (2/3 size) home-made automobile. Billy says he didn’t even know what the motor (1.5 horsepower) would look like until he finished making it. He drove the car around the soaked grounds and when it was parked, it was just in front of his grandfather’s steam-powered tractor, a really big one.

Because the rain made such a mess, parking on the Ferrum grounds was minimized, opting for a field half a mile away. The BRI furnished shuttle service and I got my thrill for the day when an attractive older woman (not quite as old as me), waved me into what looked like a full van and said, “You sit here; I’ll sit on your lap.”  Nice ride, I thought.

The past few years, I concentrated photos on the performing animals. This year, I found other topics just as interesting.

That’s my new belt ($25) being made. I’m wearing it now.

OK, so yes, I thought Alysha Fralin’s hair was natural and was quite taken by it. That smile is the last part of a laugh aimed at me.

Did somebody say mud?

Machines were big, heavy, loud and made to last.

It’s a game as old as horses and men.

Big old horses: the good …

… the big …

… and the, uh, stinky.

For horse people, this is a social event of the season.

Socializing wasn’t limited to the horse enthusiasts.

“Hogs like to smoke, too,” as my old buddy Bill Cate used to say.

Donkeys are cool.

I was right taken by this bass player and old-time music singer …

… with the green cowboy boots.

This pretty redhead offered me her seat, if she could sit on my lap. I said, “yes,” probably a little too eagerly.

Somebody has just had lunch and needs a napkin.

I ran into my good buddy T.K. Sharpley, who didn’t have her cameras with her. So I took the photo.

Now THAT, boys and girls, is a tractor. A big boy tractor.

A steam-powered ringer washer was once the latest thing for the homemaker.

Toy tractors on the tractor truck.

This old boy had some advice for us all.

Not a clue what this is, but it’s cool.

Julie Whalen had herbs to make us happy and healthy.

The marsh at the Ferrum farm.

This lady bought a knife as a present and wanted to make it more special with a photo of the knife maker, Louie Pierce.


A final resting place from a rural craftsman.

The little guys couldn’t resist a roll in the hay.

This barn was built in 1799 in Callaway, near Ferrum. It was moved to the Blue Ridge Institute farm.

A split level from the mid-19th Century.

A little girl learning a new trade.

This nice man was making baskets from scratch and offered me one of his winesap apples (which I eagerly accepted).

The pintos and cornbread were good (though not as good as mine, which are curing in the ‘fridge as we speak).

The Car Cure for Cancer

Jennie and one of her dogs.

My daughter, Jenniffer, tells me that her car club–she’s something of an aficionado–raised $13,000 for cancer research a couple of weeks ago. Good for her.

She says the club raised the money via “entry fees for car show, raffles, etc. Several of us have sponsors who donated. My sponsor is Schaffer Oil.” The yellow car below is a Challenger owned by a friend of Jennie’s. “He won a trophy asked me to model,” she says.

Jennie does good stuff for both humanity and the animal kingdom (rescuing animals, among other things). Her she is looking lovely.

Jennie and a car she likes.

Booze at the Movies? Not for Me!

My good friend Roland Lazenby just posted on Facebook about three drunk women, availing themselves of the new wine/beer service at the Grandin Theatre in Roanoke this past weekend, and it wasn’t pretty.

Apparently the women arrived tipsy and supplemented it with the Grandin’s new policy of serving booze, which I heartily disagree with. I’m already on the verge of giving up movies at the theater because they are so damn expensive and all too often I run into people who don’t respect the rest of us: talking, surfing the web on their cells, getting up and down constantly. The booze puts me over the top on the Grandin (for now anyway).

I was on the board of directors that brought the Grandin back from the dead early this century and have enjoyed movies there for decades, but movie-going–especially when I have great alternatives at home–is becoming more and more difficult to justify.

And, frankly, I’m not in the mood to make every entertainment option we have dependent on how much beer or wine is available. Roland’s string included a comment from newspaper reporter Tonia Moxley who noted that the Kroger in Blacksburg now has a bar.

We are becoming a craft beer-centered community where dang near everything revolves around how much beer we can drink. I’m a recovering alcoholic, so I can’t drink any, but there’s more to it than that. I hate that we are creating yet another generation dependent upon an altered mental state before it can have a good time.



GOP Ignores Simple Solutions to SS/Medicare

Robert Reich*, who has more good, workable ideas in any two minutes of his life than the entire GOP has collectively had in its history, has a simple, three-part solution that would stabilize Social Security and Medicare. With the exception of Part III, it is a solution I’ve been on board with since Ronald Reagan nearly wrecked the Social Security surplus in the early 1980s by transferring money to the general fund in order to avoid a tax increase.

Social Security/Medicare funds are not from the general tax fund. They are totally separate and those paying in are investing the money for their retirement. It is, simply, a retirement account administered by the government and–minus Reagan’s theft–it has been administered well.

Here are Reich’s suggestions (and my comments):

  1. “Raise the cap on income subject to Social Security payroll taxes. This year, that cap is $128,400, meaning that every dollar earned above $128,400 isn’t subject to Social Security taxes.” (That’s an easy one, though I wouldn’t just raise the cap, I’d remove it. Most of us pay SS taxes on all of our salary, but the wealthy often pay on only a small percentage.)
  2. Require “the government to use its huge bargaining power to negotiate lower drug prices.” (The drug industry’s lobbyists have put it in the the position of controlling prices by making it illegal for the government to negotiate. I would suggest that Medicare to negotiate and to allow payment for drugs from Canada, among other places, which are far cheaper than they are in the U.S.–until the American companies get real–and that Medicare pay for surgery done in other countries. That would mean a dramatic decrease in the cost of surgeries like joint replacement and heart bypass, for example, giving us more money to spend. Again, once that’s done, American medical professionals would have to adjust.)
  3. “Allow more young immigrants into the U.S.” in order to increase the base for Social Security payroll taxes. (The American population is growing older, and this infusion would help.)

A suggestion Reich doesn’t make, but that I like a lot is Medicare for all, meaning military personnel and veterans, for example, would join the vast pool of Americans sharing in a general system. The Veterans Administration would get out of the hospital business and its assets would become part of the general pool. My guess is, with the previous three actions, we’d save a ton of money.

This is not rocket science. But little is when it comes to Republican opposition.

(*His resume is so long and so impressive that I’ll simply boil it down to this: Time Magazine named him one of the Top 10 cabinet secretaries of the 20th Century. He was Secretary of Labor.)



Glucocil: Another Scam? Who Knows?

It is almost impossible these days to know who or what to believe. I read the other day that 40 percent of all robo-calls we get are scams (my guess is the other 60 percent are political). This morning, while looking at WeeklyPenny, a site that tells old people about bargains, a recommendation for Glucocil, a blood sugar product, popped up and piqued my interest.

Glucocil, says the ad, lowers blood sugar, which for those of us with Type II Diabetes is important. I looked into it and found a website (here) that reviewed Glucocil. Here’s what it said:

“While Glucocil does not appear to be a scam, there are several red flags you should keep at the top of your mind. First, the supplement is not FDA approved. What’s more, the company actually received formal notification from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in July 2013 that statements on its website violate laws which restrict claims about “treat[ing] diabetes and its complications.” In other words, they’re squarely on the FDA’s list of “illegally sold diabetes treatments.” Additionally, in at least one European study, chromium polynicotinate (or chromium salt)—one of the primary ingredients found in Glucocil—was linked to liver toxicity.

“With this said, a wide variety of online reviews reflect favorable results from the regular use of Glucocil, most of whom are Type II diabetes patients.”

Sounds like a definite maybe. Like so many other claims.


How ‘But Another Picture, Maddie?

Maddie and Brandon. Uh, how ’bout a little more traditional photo, Maddie?

As I was talking to my grandgirl, Madeline, the other night via Facetime, she paused for a minute, then tentatively said, “I have a boyfriend.” I choked back a gulp and said, “Oh, tell me about him.”

She launched into a narrative: He’s her age (whew!), “cute,” musical (which she is, as well) and is nice to her. “Send me a picture,” I said. “I’ll put it on the blog and he’ll be world famous.”

“Oh, OK,” she said. “That’d be awsome,” a word of which I have discouraged the use (to torture the hell out of a sentence). Anyhow, she agreed.

The next day, I got the above photo. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. I emailed back, “You want to try to shoot something a little more traditional and not so snuggy. I mean, you’re 13 and this doesn’t carry well with old farts like me.”

“No,” she wrote. I could hear her laughing in the background of the email.

The Creative End of Modern Photography

This is a relatively ordinary view that I turned into a watercolor, giving it a more immediate impact. I think it’s my favorite that I shot over the weekend. Click the photo for a larger, more comprehensive view of the detail.

Photography has always been the red-headed step child of the art world, rarely getting the respect I believe it deserves from the early days of blurry, grainy images on metal plates to the modern slimmed, elongated, PhotoShopped models in advertising.

Susan’s impression of a distant covered bridge with fall coming on.

Photography, these days, is, of course, mostly practiced on smart phones these days, the camera taking a distant back seat because, basically, it is a one-function instrument in a world that demands its devices be all encompassing. Fact is, though, that smart phone pictures can be quite impressive, depending on who’s shooting them.

That’s always been the case with cameras and photographers. The best photographers get the best shots, regardless of their equipment. Micheal Jordan didn’t perform like a champion because of his shoes, but because he was the best basketball player of his day. My old friend Suzan Bright learned in college at Pratt Institute in New York to build her own camera and to shoot with it. She was a photographer, not an iPhone pretender.

Susan’s shot toward the lake.

I have always had a decent eye, but until PhotoShop was rarely technically proficient. With photo editing programs, I can get images of what I see, not just what the camera sees. Ansel Adams did that in the dark room. He would climb a mountain with that bulky camera, huge wooden tripod and one plate to shoot. That’s one shot. But he knew what he was doing and what he could do in the darkroom.

This past weekend my friend Susan, who shoots a small Canon point-and-shoot and I, with my Lumix (a Leica product; I have the Leica, too) wandered around a misty, chilly, damp Mountain Lake surrounding forest to take our Sunday images. The forest around the resort looks like the deep green, moss encrusted, rhododendron filled fantasy of a children’s book and it was our job to play the tricky light and come home with something to work with.

Susan does all her work in her camera and I shoot what’s there and play with it later on my computer. Here is some of what we came up with and you can judge it as you like. We enjoy the exercise, the use of our senses, being out in this incredible beauty, and the opportunity to put on paper or canvas what we see with eyes that have been conditioned to look at what’s not always obvious.

I enhanced the color of the roof here to make the photo snap.

This was a murky overlook view of a beautiful valley, made more appealing by emphasizing the traits of the mountains.

No, the red is not this rich live as it is in Susan’s picture of the covered bridge, but which would you prefer to look at?

This is Susan’s shot of a couple on an overlook bridge. I made it black and white. She liked it. Me, too.

I shot this of Susan with her camera, using the “panorama” mode.

This is some of Susan’s magic forest, enhanced to look more Halloween-spooky.

Susan’s looking at a tunnel through the rocks here and you get the idea of the density of the forest with this.

This is Susan’s view of me as John Muir, which I am not, but, hey, it’s a photograph.

This is my enhanced view of the high water creek and the covered bridge.