My Favorite Ex and Our Little (Big, Actually) Book

That’s Christina with me (center) and Paul Lancaster getting ready to record Nightline.

My goodness! Look what I found.

This is a photo of my future bride, Christina Koomen, Public TV Niightline Host Paul Lancaster and me as Christina and I promoted the book Turning the Century, a look at the Roanoke Valley as we changed the millennium.

Christina was one of several writers I recruited to help write the large-format book which featured a lot of photos and our observations as the century changed and the earth didn’t explode–as some imagined it might. I had met Christina when she heard one of my Public Radio essays (about Friday 13, as I recall) and called her mom to set up an introduction.

Here we all are again. (Note: My beard is still red, not even salt and paprika yet.)

We got married and stayed that way until 2012. She’s my favorite ex and the best writer among them all.


The Redheads Take Roaring Run

My pals Lindsay and Trinity.

My two favorite redheads–Lindsay McKinnon and her daughter, Trinity–decided to get rid of the shut-in blues today and drive up to Roaring Run in Botetourt County for a little hike and a hearty lunch.

I put together a lunch of bbq, potato salad, coleslaw, and deviled eggs, which was popular.

Lindsay is a former nationally-ranked gymnast who is in superb physical condition and strong as a Sherpa guide, but I was still taken aback when she put on the big, stuffed backpack (including Trinity) like it weighed about as much as a wallet. The trail at Roaring Run can be wet and slippery and has a few long, high steps on the way up, but my worry about Lindsay was totally wasted. She was like a high wire walker, tiptoeing through the tulips.

Trinity loved her ride.

And, of course, Trinity, whose constant smile and good cheer would make an old codger’s heart melt, was loving every step and babbling in a baby language she was in the process of inventing.

I’m not around tiny kids much any more so this was a special treat, though not being able to touch Trinity was especially difficult–especially since she’s a dare-devil who wants to climb everything. We all maintained our safe distances.

A lovelier day in the midst of an epidemic, I could not have imagined. Here are some photos of our trek on a golden spring day.


Barbecue for Those Inside Days

Here’s the payoff: Mother Smith’s World Famous Barbecue with lemon/poppyseed coleslaw.

My dad used to cook barbecue all night over a pit, constantly tending the large chunk of pork (often a whole pig) for clubs and organizations. I heard men talk about the barbecue in glowing terms, but never got the recipe because Dad died when I was 13. It was one of the many topics I wanted to discuss with him, I discovered later.

This is Big Meat, fresh from the oven and ready to shred.

Though I didn’t get Dad’s recipe, I developed my own over the years and it has become something of a point of pride. My son took the same path, creating a dry-rubbed barbecue that is quite different from my more traditional North Carolina-style recipe, but quite good.

Mine is a rich, hearty, calorie-filled dish to serve these days, given our current circumstances. It has the added advantage of being versatile enough to be naked on a plate or snuggled in a bun with a lively lemon-poppy-seed cole slaw and simple potato salad on the side. Additionally, a 4.5-pound roast is rarely eaten in a single sitting, so you’ll have leftovers.

Here’s how I do it.

  • 1 4.5-pound Boston butt pork roast (I love the packages that read: Boston Butt Whole)
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup apple vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
The leftovers go into the ‘fridge for later humming.

Combine the pepper, paprika, cumin, hot sauce, coriander and maple syrup in a bowl and reserve two tablespoons of it to the side. Rub what’s left evenly over the roast. Heat the canola oil in a large pan over medium heat and add the pork to the pan when the oil is hot. Cook it for 15 minutes, browning it on all sides.

Put the roast into a large slow cooker. (You should always put the pork into the cooker first-thing, to make sure it fits. This roast nearly didn’t and I had to cut a bit off.)

After removing the roast, add the onion and garlic to the hot pan with the remaining oil and sauté it for three minutes. Add the stock and take the pan off the heat. Stir in the two tablespoons of the spice mixture with vinegar and pour it all over the roast in the crockpot. Cook it for eight hours until it is tender.

Remove the pork from the pot and let it cool for 20 minutes, then skim the fat from the liquid it was cooked in. Or you can simply refrigerate it and more easily take the chilled fat off the top. Reserve a cup of the liquid. Shred the pork and discard the bone and fat. Add enough of the cooking liquid to keep it moist and toss it with the shredded meat.

You can eat the barbecue this way or top it with your own mustard- or tomato-based sauce.


There’s Retail Life Out There, But Not Much

You can’t tell it from this photo, but Valley View Mall is open. Most stores aren’t, however.

Since it was raining and chilly around “walk time,” I thought I’d go over to Valley View Mall, Roanoke’s biggest and a popular place for old farts like me to walk on dingy days. I found pretty much what I expected after going online and discovering the mall is open.

You can’t close a cookie store. It would be heresy.

It was nearly empty. Probably 80 percent of the businesses were closed at 1:30 p.m. and those that were open primarily dealt with food, nutrition, sports shoes or clothes, a book store, a couple of kiosks and a salon that weaves your eyebrows. OK, no I don’t know what that’s about, but a woman was sitting in a chair reading, awaiting customers.

I suspect this scene is typical for all the malls in the Valley, though the outside buildings seemed a little busier. A little.

And we’re nowhere near the vacancies we will see in a couple of weeks.

Barnes & Noble was open, but I didn’t see anybody buying books. Not a soul.
Here it is in all its emptiness.

Exam Gloves Found; Now I Can Scratch My …

It was a lot easier than I thought. I’ve been considering upending the basement in order to find some latex medical exam gloves I knew I had, but have put it off and put it off and put …

Today, after updating my bedroom drawers,  inventing a new upper-body workout and going with it, cleaning out the ‘fridge, putting in a load of laundry and doing various other busywork, I thought I’d at least visit the basement. First place I went, I moved an empty box (I keep boxes because I mail a lot of stuff) and voila! there they were.

Now, I can put my hands anywhere I want and I can scratch my butt, which has needed a good scratching for some time now.


DIY Home Workout (It’s Easy, Cheap)

That’s me working on my shoulders.

I’ve been missing my daily workouts at the gym since mine closed (and yours, too, no doubt), but a few minutes ago I had a brainstorm, initiated by an internet ad, of all things.

This is an upper body workout that requires a stretchy band of the type gyms use and something to attach it to the top of the door. I used a lanyard, tied to the center of the band and with the bulk of the lanyard inserted at the top of the door.

When the door is closed on the lanyard on the backside, it provides a stable connection and you can lift the “weights.”

This is an easy/cheap answer to lifting weights. You can buy the band at just about any big-box retailer or sports equipment store for probably $5 or less (I have a whole bag of them, coming in different strengths). Then you gotta do the work (and not just write about it, I told myself).


More on the Local Paper Drama

I ran into some interesting commentary yesterday while rooting around trying to get the details of the most recent drama events at Roanoke’s daily newspaper. There seems to be a good bit of speculation at the paper–both positive and negative–with Lee Enterprises’ purchase (for $149 million) of The Times from Warren Buffett’s BH Media, which is not and never has been a newspaper company, apparently.

One former reporter who remains close to the drama summed it up thusly:

“BH was a made-up company. Basically the Omaha newspaper executives were put in charge of a whole company overnight [and] they were out of their depth. [They had] no vision. Sometimes a bad plan is better than no plan. Lee seems to have a plan. It may turn out to be a bad plan, but at least it’s a plan. Lee is big on trying to create a digital future while extending the life of print as long as possible.”

Reporter Amy Friedenberger, who is with the group trying to form a guild (professionals in a union), tweeted this: “A metaphor for this newsroom [is that] our interim publisher (I’ve never met him and I don’t know where he lives, but his name is John Jordan) wasn’t in his office to accept our letter informing him we’re forming a union. Empty office. That shows his level of interest in local journalism.”

The former reporter I chatted with predicts that “someday [the paper] will all be online. Every day consumer preference dictates that. Online readership was far higher than print. Add them together and they nearly equal [the paper’s] old print readership. But online produces little revenue. Can Lee change that? We’ll see. By all accounts, they’re cheap … but at least they’re cheap [managers] with a plan.

“Here’s what to keep an eye on: the day Lee bought BH, the dreaded Alden hedge fund bought a small interest in Lee. Alden is the devil. Will [it] own enough to make a difference? I hope not but it’s not a good sign. Alden’s stake in the Tribune company has ruined the Norfolk.” [It has led to the sale of downtown offices, buyouts and a move to Newport News.)

“I was feeling great about the change to Lee until the Alden news. About 5 percent. …  [Alden owns] about a third of the Tribune.

“The Lee execs … have all said the right things about the value of local news. [It] may all be rhetoric but I never heard BH say that or anything [else about the value of local news]. Also the interim publisher is a former reporter” in Raleigh.

Lee Enterprises bought these Virginia papers from BH Media: The Roanoke Times, The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Bristol Herald Courier, The News & Advance in Lynchburg, the Martinsville Bulletin, The Danville Register & Bee, The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, the Culpeper Star-Exponent, and The News Virginian in Waynesboro.


Remembering Kenny Rogers

I see where Kenny Rogers just died of natural causes at 81, and it saddens me.

I spent a little time with Rogers at the Roanoke Civic Center before a sold-out concert about 35 or so years ago when he was at the very height of his popularity. He was, quite simply, a courteous, interested, kind man who made time for a young reporter.

At the time, he was waiting to go on and Dottie West (whom I also interviewed and found to be delightful) was winding down her act. Dottie was killed in a car wreck a good while ago). I liked her.

One of the roadies came into the room where we were talking and said, “You got a couple of minutes, Kenny. Might want to come on up there.”

Rogers was completely unconcerned. “Let me finish here,” he said, then turned to me and added, “Oh, we have plenty of time. Those guys worry themselves and me to death.”

We took about 10 more minutes and I said, “You probably ought to go on out” and he smiled and came back and said, “It’s my show. I can go when I want to. Any more questions?”

I grinned and said, “Nah. That’ll do. Gotta talk to Dottie.”

“Oh, I see, he said.” And he did.


Roanoke Times Hit Again with Newsroom Loss

Matt Chittum

( NOTE: The blue type, double-underlined, denotes ads that are inserted into this copy without my permission. I don’t know how to erase them. My apologies.)

Roanoke’s daily newspaper is once again bubbling over with news about itself that it doesn’t seem to want to report.

First, the news department (news, editorial, photo, sports, etc.) decided it wanted to form a guild–which is what professionals have instead of a union–and got a bunch of veterans to sign on.

Dwayne Yancey, editor of the editorial page, was not asked to join. He says, “Technically, I suppose I am regarded as a manager, altho[ugh] I have no one to manage. Not sure whether that was a local decision or a guild-wide rule.”

Now, it seems long-time reporter Matt Chittum, one of the paper’s most reliable professionals, has decided he wants to join a lot of other journalists who are making good salaries and have excellent benefits by taking a job at Virginia Tech’s Fralin Biomedical Institute. Public relations at Carilion and Virginia Tech (which are often joined at the hip) has pulled a lot of professional journalists away from their jobs in the Roanoke Valley in the past few years because, well, the jobs are better in every way, especially in being appreciated.

Says Yancey, “The loss of Matt Chittum is a big loss. Lots of experience, deep local roots. You can’t buy that, even if your corporate masters want to.”

I wrote a piece for the Roanoker magazine recently detailing which journalist has gone where in the past few years and I found a lot of EX-journalists, though I’m certain I didn’t get them all.

I have thought of Chittum as a lifer for a lot of years. He has served in a number of capacities for The Times, always capably, and I’m sure he will do the same at Carilion.

The Timesland News Guild‘s online news statement goes like this: “For almost a decade, our larger parent company has been slashing our staff and the coverage that we provide. We must stand up to preserve local news and rebuild what we have lost to serve our readers and communities for the next 134 years.” People at The Times, from what I understand, have not received a pay increase in at least 10 years.

Chittum is one of 42 signatories to the guild’s initial attempt to form.

According to its press release, “The Timesland News Guild is asking Lee [which publishes the paper] to voluntarily recognize the guild and begin bargaining. If Lee does not, the guild will file for an election with the National Labor Relations Board. Elections typically take up to four weeks. The Timesland News Guild seeks to become a unit of the Washington-Baltimore News Guild Local 32035.”

The guild wants this:

  • Restore staff positions that have gone unfilled.

  • Fight for fair pay, cost-of-living increases and fair severance and buyout packages.

  • Negotiate affordable health insurance and equitable retirement benefits benefits.

  • Ensure that the diversity of our newsroom reflects our community.


Need Streaming TV Suggestions? Here Goes

Marta Dusseldorp is in three of my faves: A Place to Call Home, Janet King and Crownies.

My friend Getra Hanes asked for some television suggestions to help get through this self-imposed lockdown we’re enjoying these days and here’s what I came up with:

The best of the best is in the first group; “must-sees” in the second; and very good stuff in the third. I know this is a lot, but we’re in for a long siege.
Key: AP-Amazon Prime
MHz-MHz (Foreign movies and TV series)
A-Acorn (British series TV; great stuff)
G-Google for the network
A French Village (AP, MHz)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (AP)
Deadwood (AP) (Often called “the best series ever on TV”)
A Place to Call Home (AP, A)
Crownies (A)
Janet King (A)
Fleabag (AP)
To Catch a Thief (AP) (Yes, that one!)
Anne with an E (N)
Spring Tide (MHz)
Bosch (N)
Alias Grace (N)
Peaky Blinders (N) (Caution: very violent)
Jessica Jones (N)
The Crown (N)
Godless (N)
Good Girls Revolt (N, AP)
The Last Post (AP)
1922 (N)
Suits (N)
Mindhunter (AP)
Stranger Things (AP)
Manhunt: Unibomber (G)
The Keepers (G)
The New Nurses (MHz)
The Art of Crime (MHz)
Arne Dahl (MHz)
Irene Huss (MHz)
The Heavy Water War (MHz)
Mission Impossible: Fallout (AP)
Serenity (AP)
Lady Bird (AP)
Brittany Runs a Marathon (AP)
The Birdcage (AP)
Jack Ryan (AP)
The Night Manager (AP)
There is a lot–and I mean a LOT–that’s not on here, but as I’ve said before, this is the Golden Age of Television.