Monday, April 30, 2007

A Different Kind of Garden Catalog

[For a catalog that has photographs, just drop me an email at Newt9(at)cox(dot)net Also, I'm working on transferring some photos of my tomato/pepper varieties to this's just a little bit involved and will take some time.]

Tomato and Pepper Plants

The season is here. My obsession has manifested itself in a dizzying array of exotic and standard tomato and pepper varieties. I am offering what I don’t need for my own personal garden space to anyone who wants them. The suggested donation is $0.75 each or 3/$2.00 or tithe from your plant to me. For some unknown reason, I have grown 681 plants this spring. I don’t know why. Each plant has been lovingly transferred into individual containers and appropriately labeled with markings on the cup and a popsicle stick. I must confess that the little goobers look a little weak this year. I’m not sure exactly why. I suspect that once I can set them up outside, they’ll all rebound nicely. Thus, I’ll only ask for donations for plants that look like the real deal. The rest will be available for whatever you’d like to donate.

Plants were tendered from seed and suckled on water in a healthy soil mix. No additives other than treated county water, rain water, dust particles, and Roanoke’s own natural air pollution have ever been added to these plants or their immediate environment.

Here are my babies with a brief description of each variety. Determinate means that the plant sets all of its fruit at once. Indeterminate means that the plant keeps producing fruit and it ripens on the vine as long as the plant is alive. The fruit comes in throughout the season. I’m partial to indeterminate types. (#) = how many of this plant I have in stock.

Slicing Tomato

Abraham Lincoln: Beautiful tomato. 6-10oz round red fruit. It’s the tomato that you think of when you think of a tomato. Introduced in 1923. Used for slicing, juicing, or making catsup, not used as much for making ketchup. Indeterminate. (21)

Beefsteak A staple in gardens for half a century, Beefsteak is one of my favorite tomatoes. Plants yield 1-2 pound fruit. Being an older variety, the fruit is not perfect. It can be heavily ribbed, but I like that. I read somewhere that this tomato used to be know as Henderson’s Red Ponderosa before simply being referred to as Beefsteak in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Later, Burpee came along and smoothed out the wrinkles and called their new version of this classic “Delicious.”

Indeterminate (11)

Believe It Or Not: Very large up to 2 lb fruit. I’m now into my second year of growing this tomato. I’m using seed from my initial purchase last year. Like last year, these seeds are struggling to get going. I’ve been really babying the seeds that did join life, and hopefully, I’ll be able to extract a few solid plants. Last year, the plants that did survive produced some excellent tomatoes.

Indeterminate (12)

Better Boy: Standard 1 lb red fruit. Guinness record-holder for yields: 342 lbs. of fruit from a single plant! This is the most popular tomato in my garden. It’s easy to grow, disease resistant, and lovely to look at.

Indeterminate (43)

Big Boy: Standard 10-16oz fruit This is a variety that was introduced by Burpee in the 1930’s and is regarded as one of the five best of all time according to some experts. Read more about hybridization of the Big Boy here.

Indeterminate (19)

Brandywine (Red) New This Year! These are technically not a true red, red tomato, but dark enough. It's really a deep pinkish red color when fully ripe. These are the favorites of a lot of folks for a long time now. One of the best known tomatoes. Just the other day, my neighbor slipped over to my garage and gave me a beautiful Brandywine all ready to go in the ground as payment for me tilling her garden. Perhaps she knew that my crop of tomato plants looks a bit thin this year.

Indeterminate (34)

Early Girl: New This Year! The old standard for early tomatoes. Round 6-8 ounce tomatoes early and the plants produce well over the long season, nice red color. I believe that this tomato is an excellent choice, a nice well-rounded tomato. It grows well in just about any conditions and the plant is quite prolific. Some people poo-poo this variety claiming that it doesn’t have the rich tomato taste that connoisseurs desire. Well, I don’t like poo-poo to start, and I think this tomato tastes just fine by me.

Indeterminate (24)

Jet Star: 7 to 8 oz red fruit. Low acid. Compact plant

“ ‘Uncle’ Dick raised hogs, greens and Jet Star tomatoes. Sold them at the public Market. We weeded and later picked these tomatoes; they were and still are the one tomato I can count on come harvest time. I can them and we eat them off the vine. I try several varieties every year for fun, but depend on Jet Star for canning. I put in 100 plants and feed give away a lot of tomatoes.”

Marc from Monroe County, NY

Indeterminate. (12)

Park's Whopper: New this year! 4 inch diameter fruit. I remember well when Park’s Seed first came out with this variety. I was very excited to grow some since they took the time to send me a free pack. Park’s Seeds seemed to stake their future on this variety. They hyped it like no other tomato since the Better Boy. I suppose to a large degree their campaign worked, because Park’s Whopper is still a recognizable name.

Indeterminate (22)

Persimmon: 3-5 inch yellow fruit. An old heirloom variety that dates to the mid- 1800’s. I really enjoyed this tomato last season. My plants bore several beautiful round yellow fruits that were extremely meaty and deliciously sweet. This is the one tomato that I most wanted to grow again.

Indeterminate (16)

Raad Red Deep globed, blocky shaped fruits average 4 ounces and are firm with uniform green shoulders. Plants are medium compact with good foliage cover. Supposedly Raad Red provides excellent yields under high temperatures. I received these seeds in a free packet from one of my suppliers. We shall see if they produce. So far of all my tomato plants, they actually look like plants and not runts.

Determinate (18)

Stupice: New this year! A great early tomato, they are a medium sized to small tomato, good for salads, etc, but you can still slice them up if that's all you have. I have a friend who swears by this tomato so much he just can’t seem to stop talking about it. Here’s what I mean:

Me: “Well I’m about to order my seeds…”

Him(Interrupting): “Aw Man! You’ve got to get some Stupice…that’s ‘stew-peach-ka.’ It’s the best tomato I’ve ever grown.”

Another Day

Me: “Well my tomatoes are looking a bit puny this year…”

Him: “Aw man, are you growing any of those Stupice…that’s ‘stew-peach-ka’ this year? They are easily the best tomatoes I’ve ever grown.

We’ve had many conversations just like those two. Each conversation ends with praise being sung for the mighty Czechoslovakian heirloom.

Indeterminate (19)

Large 1-lb. fruit with characteristic beefsteak wrinkles. This variety is much more disease resistant than traditional beefsteaks. I view growing this variety as a challenge in timing and luck. Invariably, I get the largest green tomatoes of all my varieties from this baby, but since the tomato is severely lobed, each section seems to ripen at different times. This year, I’m going to experiment with it by placing a bag over the whole tomato when it’s the appropriate size and greenness. Then I’ll see what effect the total darkness has on the overall ripening. Just a little science experiment. What the heck.

Indeterminate (16)

Super Marmande: Large red fruit grows on a tomato bush. Excellent for slicing. I’ve read that the marmande strain originated in Southern France. It gets my award for best tomato name. I have actually plucked a tomato or two which in my garden constitutes a moderate yield.

Semi-determinate (11)

Supersonic: New this year! Large, globe-shaped fruit. Last year I wrote this touching story about gardening and my youth.. “When I think of this tomato I think about growing up. My father would always plant this variety; sometimes with my help. I think I love tomato gardening so much because of the wonderful hours I used to spend trailing my father in the garden tending his Super Steaks.” The only problem with that memory was that it was wrong. Later, I figured out that Supersonic was the tomato we planted a lot of in the garden. So I searched and searched this winter for seeds and finally found them after much anxious catalog flipping.

Indeterminate (24)

Supersteak: A huge red slicing variety up to 2- lb fruit. Even though I never really shared good times planting this one with my father, I’ve always been intrigued by it’s irregular shape and ripening habits. I plan to experiment on this variety this summer, too. Just like the Super Beefsteak.

Indeterminate (22)

Cherry Tomato

Large Red Cherry New this year! I decided to go out and find a new cherry tomato. What I found was this simply named plant. From what I’ve read, this plant will knock your socks off. Prolific. Big. Red. Cherry. Really, there’s not much else you need to know about it.

Indeterminate (21)

Sugary: I grew this plant for the first time last year, and I was amazed by it. The clusters of grape like fruit were slightly pink in color and a perfect combination of sweet and tart. I wasn’t able to purchase more this year, but I plan to bring them back next year.

Indeterminate (1)

Sun Gold: I love this little yellow cherry tomato. It’s without question, the best tasting tomato in the garden. Day after day, I sneak out to my garden and pick a few of these little bursts of flavor. It may also end up being your first tomato to produce. There is nothing quite like them.

Indeterminate (14)

Sweet Million: Sweet, tasty, red. One of best tomatoes you’ll ever eat. Small cherry- sized fruits. You’ll have billions of these little buggers. While they are extremely tasty, the fruit tends to swell and crack after a rainy period. .

Indeterminate (17)

Yellow Pear: Tasty old heirloom variety with little disease resistance. Fruit is yellow and pear shaped. Fruit tends to spoil on the vine and vines tend to die from disease. Other than withering, dying vines and spoiled fruit, this is a most tasty cherry tomato if you can get past the tough exterior skin.

Indeterminate (1)

Salad Tomato

4th of July: Indeterminate and early 4 ½ oz fruits. This was my favorite tomato last year. It produces early and keeps producing throughout the season and late into the fall. I’ve never seen a tomato with that kind of production. The fruit is tasty, but not over-powering with tomatoey-ness.

Indeterminate (11)

Ping Pong: What a surprise this variety was to me last year. Huge plant that produces pink ping pong ball sized fruit all season and then some. You’ll most likely have to stake or find some way to contain the plant. It was the second tomato in my garden to produce, and it far outlasted every other plant. I picked my last one in late November. They look cool, like a small pink ping pong ball, and they tasted great in salads. (Scan the linked article to near the bottom to read about this tomato)

Indeterminate. (11)

Riesentraube: New this year! Great bunches of grapes is what the name means. They do hang in large clusters. Pointed ends on small grape to cherry size tomatoes. I’m frustrated by this tomato. I paid a large price to purchase 20 seeds. Out of the twenty, only two plants germinated. All my other varieties germinated at close to 100%. So I really don’t have any to sell, and I plan to never use that supplier again (Pine Tree Garden Seeds- lettuce gotten from them didn’t germinate either). However, I am really looking forward to seeing these grape-like clusters of tomatoes! (Some would include this in the cherry tomato category)

Indeterminate (2)

Paste Tomato

Opalka: From my Polish garden to yours. This is one of the best paste tomatoes. Very few seeds make it great for sauce. Fruit is about 6” x 3” and prolific. This is an heirloom variety, so it can get hit by tobacco mosaic virus. So, don’t smoke a cigarette then tend these plants…seriously!

Indeterminate. (23)

Super Marzano: Excellent Paste tomato. It’s supposed to be a more disease resistant Marzano. Fruit is elongated and about 5 inches. I’ve read accounts of this variety surviving scorching heat of a 100 degree summer. Thus, this variety could be your ticket to surviving global warming.

Indeterminate. (32)

Hot Pepper

Anaheim College 64 New this year! Anaheims are a lot of fun to grow and pick. This plant should give about 8 fat 6-8 inch peppers. They’ll start off green and slowly turn red as they mature. Supposedly the heat is mildly hot.


Black Hungarian New this year! The 3-4 inch fruit ripens black then turns red. It’s mildly hot. I’m excited to add this to my hot/ornamental pepper collection. Hot peppers are so beautiful in my flower beds. In fact, I really can’t eat them in any quantity at all; I just love looking at them.


Cayenne Long New this year! This plant goes by many names, but they all end up the same way. Long, thin, green peppers ripen to a shiny red. The red is fire engine hot. I think they may be nice to cut and dry on the stem.


Habanero: So innocent looking. Cute little yellow to orange-ish fruit when mature. Vibrantly, nose-meltingly, esophagus-burning hot. A great pepper for playing eating tricks on your friends*. These plants come from seed I saved, so your variety will be open-pollinated which means your fruit may vary in look and intensity. Who knows, you might create a new ornamental Habanero. (23)

*A couple of years ago, I had a bumper crop of Habaneros, and I went out to pick a bag full. After picking I left them sitting on our kitchen stove. A little while later, my son’s friend stopped by and he saw the habbas and commented on how much he really liked to eat hot peppers raw. Realizing that he was performing a form of macho male hot pepper bluffing game, I called him on it.

I said, “Well, I dare you to eat just one of those.”

[slight hesitation] “Man, no problem.”

“All right then…go ahead and eat one…all the way down.”

In a corner with no discernable way out, he squirmed a bit. “Okay then, here goes.”

He gingerly picked up a cute little innocent Habanero. Likely his inner-most self-preservation warning systems were flashing code red. With a singular motion, he popped the whole pepper in his mouth and began chewing. After a few brief chews, he swallowed the whole thing. I looked on in amazement. The pepper seemed to have no affect on him at all. He really wasn’t bluffing after all…

Then I noticed his face turn ashen followed by intense bright red. The next thing I knew, he was screaming and running to the kitchen faucet. No amount of cold water could quell his inner fire. He then ran to the refrigerator and chugged some milk. Still no comfort. Gasping as if dying, his penance went on and on and on.

Days later, we chatted about the event in some detail. He just hadn’t expected the Habanero to be that hot, and to this day he is wary of my peppers.


Purple Cayenne: Extremely hot. Extremely beautiful, skinny purple fruit on dark green foliage. These plants come from seed I saved, so your variety will be open-pollinated which means your fruit may vary in look and intensity. I had excellent luck with mine last year. Who knows, you might create a new ornamental Cayenne.


Senorita: Hot pepper with green fruit ripening to red when mature. 3x1.5” fruit. Stunningly beautiful and full plants. I grew these for the first time last year and found them to be every bit as beautiful as advertised.


Hot Ornamental Pepper

Candlelight: Fruit is red and points upward in clusters. It’s also very hot. Early on, you’ll barely notice that this plant is alive. Then sometime in July, It will jump up and grab you with its vibrant color display. Plant it as low, front tier growth in a height rationed flower bed.


Largo Purple: Amazing 2 ½ to 3’ purple variegated (white, green, purple)shrub with conical yellow fruit that turn red as they mature. Very Hot. This hot ornamental pepper is great for main flower garden planting and the fruit is great for eating.


Trifetti New this year! I like to believe that I own this plant. I bought one packet of seeds about ten years ago and from that initial purchase, my seed stock keeps growing and growing. The plants are completely unique. Trifoliated leaves of white, yellow, and green. Intensely purple fruit sets. Tall spreading growth makes it more of a small bush than a stand alone plant. I like to just let them go and produce then drop their seeds. Every year I have hundreds of new plants come back.


Sweet Pepper

Cubanelle: New this year! You might expect that with this name the Cubanelle would sear the tissue inside your mouth. On the contrary, this pepper is a sweet frying pepper. Plants produce large 2x6 inch elongated peppers that lend themselves for frying. Time will tell how well it produces here in Roanoke, VA.


Sweet Banana: Looks hot, but it’s not. Yellow banana shaped fruit. I love to slice these babies up, blanche them, then freeze them for later use on pizzas from Domino’s.


California Wonder New this year! I’m happy to be growing this variety again after several years away from it. This pepper is an excellent thick-walled green bell pepper. It’s great for stuffing or slicing up in to salads. It can be a bit temperamental early on, but if you baby it a bit, it should reward you with many nice peppers.


Many thanks to Cornell University for their incredible vegetable variety database.

Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners, Cornell Cooperative Extension

To Order: Contact Thom Ryder (Newt9(at)cox(dot)com) to order or place your order on the comment section below the catalog entry in my blog, Swimming Upstream. I can either bring the plants to you here at school or you can drop by my house in North Lake Subdivision next to Northside High most evenings other than school board meeting nights. Call 555-5555 any time I’m at home.

Friday, April 27, 2007


I must admit that I'm more than a little disappointed in my tomato and pepper seedlings this year. So far, my 681 plants look to be about three/four weeks behind where they ought to be. By now, plants should be about ready to be hardened off outside, but most of mine this year are still struggling to gain a workable set of leaves.

I have theories.

1. I used a Miracle Grow potting soil compound this year as a seed starter. That in and of itself isn't what was different. What was different is that the company has added 9 months of feeding to their formula. That escaped me until it was too late. I usually like to provide my own nutrient program for my plants, but this year, I've been afraid to overdo the fertilization. Plants suffering from over fertilization tend to shut down their leaf production and end up looking yellowed and anemic.

2. Inadequate light. Despite my amazing racking system with a lot more light than I'm used to having, I don't think the plants got all of the light they needed early on. Many of my seedling flats were stacked in shelves with no direct light source. Foolish on my part. I need to grow fewer plants with more available light.

Despite my plants shortcomings, I believe that they will rebound. They are already showing signs of that as I begin to move them gradually outside under my broad maple tree. Now, I have to be careful to gradually move them out and slowly extend the time they spend out in the world. Wind is the main enemy. In recent years, a wind seems to blow from April right through the end of May.

Whatever happens, I plan to have some tomato and pepper plants. If they remain runts, I'll probably just give most away, but if they rebound, I'll be seeking fair compensation.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Star Trek meets the Python

It's time to lighten the mood. I know of no better source of mood lightening...

Remember, it's only a model.

Monday, April 23, 2007



My wife and I dropped off our first born at VT late Sunday afternoon. Much has changed since we were there last Wednesday. People were still huddled in private corners of the campus staring through the space in front of them with tears in their eyes. Others paid their respects in front of the silent Norris Hall. All wandered freely among the memorial message boards located in front of the bugle stand. A long line snaked past the make-shift Hokie Stone memorial in front of Burruss Hall. Little memorials to various students were piled with flowers and important articles here and there.

Yet despite the somber mourning, there was light and hope. The students were filtering back and some were tossing a football on the Drillfield. A study group was getting an assignment together in Squires. The sky was crystal blue with a generous breeze. You know that breeze. In winter it sharpens its teeth, but in spring it bathes you in refreshment.

The media was largely gone, or at least they were staying clear of Norris and the Drillfield. That alone was the greatest difference between today and last Wednesday.

I didn't cry today as I looked upon the beautiful memorials and heartfelt messages. Last Wednesday, rivers of tears streamed down my face. Today though, I was almost tear-free. Almost...

The last place we stopped before heading home was Squires. As we walked around to the front of the building on the second floor, we scanned the announcement boards that had been set up to receive all of the thoughts and prayers from university students and organizations from around the globe. Radford University. VCU. UNCW. Moravian College. Bob Jones University. Towson University. University of Kentucky. University of Southern Illinois. University of South Carolina... and Country Bear Day School from Roanoke, Virginia...

My eyes grew moist when I read the message from young Alex, Age 5, from the Kinderbear Class of 2007...

"We love all of the VA Tech people!"

Quinn, age 5, also shared a reaffirming message for all of those who hurt, "They can feel better with my grandma and I love them!"

The tears though really escaped me when I read what young Jackson, age 4, said,

"I will give them my Superman costume so they will feel better!"

I hope that everyone affected by this tragedy gets the opportunity to put on Jackson's Superman costume so that we can all feel better.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

From an Aggie

Sometimes words can do something justice. What follows is a copy of a letter that a Texas A&M Aggie supporter wrote today on the Virginia Tech message board I frequent. Messages like this one are ringing out all across the Hokie land. These fine people seem to understand and appreciate the deeper bond that; despite ideological, geographic, and economic differences; joins us all together.

Subject: Dear Hokies:
Posted by: decadeplan on Sun Apr 22 2007 2:43:20 PM
Message: Very soon, I and other well-wishers who've found a safe place in here to
grieve, though we are outsiders to the Hokie community, will move on
with the normality of our lives. In fact, America - though she will
NEVER forget your tragedy and the mark it left on you and all of her
pepole - will be distracted by other events. The media will back away,
giving you that privacy you so desire and need right now.

And it's going to be different for different ones of you. Some of you are
going to sense that we're forgetting, that we've lost interest or that our
care and concern for you is waning. Please know that nothing is further
from the truth. The fact is, you will necessarily suffer MUCH longer
than we on the outside. Especially those of you with daily visual
contact with your own Ground Zero.

Like others, I'm sure I'll ease back over to Texags sooner than later and
get about the business of talking nonsense about the less important
things in our world. I, like many others, have never felt like we were
intruders here - but we also know this is YOUR place and it is not ours
to overstay our invitation. I know I'm someone melodramatic and
pontificating - such is me, but it's the real me (my poor kids, huh?) :)

I admire you guys more than you realize - and did long before this
tragedy. Unlike many in this country, I was not in the least surprised
by your valor in the face of the storm, or by your courage in the
cauldron of pain. I expected that because long before "Cho" became a
household word of hatred at your expense, you were the Hokies.

This tragedy drew out the deepest pain in you, and the greatest honor
within each of you. I've basked in it for a week and like the rest of
America, feel that it's time to move over to my little corner of the world.

But - like ALL of this country - I am not far. Never so far away that one
of you can't holler and just ask for a goofy YouTube video of turtles
doing the Wild Thing, a good Aggie joke that you can turn into a Hoo
joke - or just a word of encouragement. Email me - - and write nothing. Put "life sucks" in your
subject and hit "Send." I care, and I'll hear you out. I am POSITIVE
that is true for many of your kinsmen on TexAgs.

We'll be silent, we'll let you move on together. We can because we see
you regaining your strength quickly, bent but not broken.

But we'll be watching. We'll be praying. And if you stumble, be it
tomorrow are on the 1-year I promised you that terrible
Monday night...we WILL carry you. Better, God will carry you.

You are good, your hearts are sound, and you have each other. That's
good enough. I'm a better person today, because you suffered so
amazingly and invited others into your pain, including me. I have but
one wish for you now - that you NEVER suffer like this again.

Your American Brother

Taken from the Techsideline Lounge ,my cyber home.

VT Tragedy Photo Journal

Bad timing really. Or maybe a blessed diversion. I had to attend the Virginia Education Association Convention in Virginia Beach for the past three days. My hotel, while plush, was willing to allow me internet access for a hefty fee. I'm way too cheap for that. The convention center, itself, also wanted to extract a fee for internet use. So I simply declined and promptly spent three days in serious i-Withdrawl.

Here is a cluster of pictures I promised in my last post. They were taken by my daughter on Wednesday April 18, 2007 at about 1:30-2:00pm I'm posting them without comment. Feel free to ask for any clarification.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Paying Our respects

Paying Our Respects

My wife, daughter, and I went to VT to get my son. We were joined by my sister-in-law and my niece.

So many people have said that words don't do the scene justice. Let me then just paint a few pictures, snapshots from this afternoon.

We stood in the spot across Stanger Street from McBryde (aka back in the day- PAB) looking towards Norris and Burress tunnel. That's where my son stood and watched the events. He was exiting McBryde at 9:42 when the first shots rang out there.

We stood by the police tape in silence and gazed at the open classroom windows. Stark. Open. Empty. A state trooper sat in his car on the grass guarding the scene. A few people milled past, many "journalists;" many with tears.

With many tears we walked to the Drillfield a few yards away and just stopped and took in the scene and cried some more. There was a prayer gathering in the middle, another gathering by War Memorial, and the main gathering in front of Burress. Somewhere the reverent silence was broken by a man preaching from a booming loudspeaker for us all to
repent and embrace God's plan.

Large white painted planks were set up on the Drillfield surrounding the bugler's stand. Personal messages to loved ones, friends and the Hokie Nation were written there as a memorial to the enormity of the tragedy.

32 Hokie Stones were placed in a sem-circle with flowers upon each.

Mourners, including my family and me, wandered around the message boards. Media whores trailed us. Once, during a moment of intense emotion and tears a man dressed in a black suit and tie with a microphone came up behind me and whispered in my ear, "Excuse me, sir. Did you lose a family member here Monday?"

I glanced at him and his microphone. I couldn't believe that he was asking me that question there and then. I replied something like, "Yes, 32 members of my family were lost."

"I see," the media whore whispered.

"You see, this is a very special place. We are one family."

"I can see that. Why is it so special to you?"

"It's hard to say exactly. I went to school here; my wife went to school here. My son goes to school here. Most of my brothers and sisters went to school here. My sister and brother-in-law worked here. My sister-in-law went to school here...this place is the most
special place I know."

Business time.

He whispered, ""I'm from a television station in Hampton Roads. Would you mind saying all of that to me on the air?"

"No thank you."

Pointing to my sister-in-law, who was just as emotion racked as I, he said, "Do you think I could talk to your wife?"

"No, I don't think so."

We milled around for another half hour or so before slowly making our way back past Norris. The front doors were open and troopers scurried about. Slowly, we made our way to our car and then home.


Interestingly earlier in the day, I had run in to Valley View Mall in Roanoke to pick up my broken camera that had been repaired before heading to campus. As I ran in, a Japanese man ran over to me.

"Excuse me, sir (I was wearing my Virginia Tech Gobblers shirt), I'm from Japanese TV, could you talk with me for a moment."

"No thank you."

I felt guilty about going away abruptly from the kind gentleman, so after I got my camera, I went back to him and explained pretty much what I said to the guy on the Drillfield. This man told me that he understood completely. He patted me on my back, and I ran off to to VT.


My heart aches for those lost and those who may believe they've lost some part of their soul. I know we'll all recover, but I'm a realist enough to know that healing will take much, much time.

I'll be back later to post some pictures that we took today.

In the meantime, here's a link to a commentary from Will at

I've been a part of Will's online Tech community since 1996. He has a way of explaining things. This should be a free link.



Billy Pilgrim became unstuck in time.

So began the opening to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, A Children’s Crusade. In a sense I feel like Billy Pilgrim today. I see both the past, the present, and the future.

Yesterday, over thirty vibrant lives were extinguished for no reason. So it goes.

John Irving in The Hotel New Hampshire attempted to tap in to the same emotional stream as Vonnegut when he described the results of a plane that crashed in the ocean. A family dog, “Sorrow,” was among the victims. It turns out that Sorrow was found. Irving described that scene this way, “Sorrow Floats.”

Sorrow visited Virginia Tech yesterday in A. J., in Norris Hall, and across the whole campus, nation, and world. It’s tried to set up residence. It is an unwelcome guest and doesn’t hide. It eats away and tries to erode faith and hope.


Today as the nation and world watched, Virginia Tech students showed us all how to grieve. That sad, sorrowful lesson has been passed down generation to generation. As humans, we are biologically programmed to deal with sorrow. It happens to all of us. But sorrow so rarely attacks with such a vengeance to so many at once.

So many.

So many.

Yet despite the horror, there is light. We are a strong people. We are a nation of souls all linked together by powerful shared experiences and dreams. I really can’t explain it more than that. However, two years ago I wrote this piece. It’s about an especially painful loss in football to our rival, University of Miami. Reflecting on the loss, I began to analyze why I love Virginia Tech so much. While it describes a football loss, I think it comes as close as I can to describing the coming together of our Hokie Nation.

Why I Care

I had an uneasy feeling all season about the Miami game this year. This feeling only grew as game day approached on the swirling wind of media frenzy. I’d seen this before. As the week wore on, little things just seemed to be “getting out of whack” as Frank (Beamer) and Bud (Foster) predictably say after tough losses. Something was lost last night, and it wasn’t just a football game. Something was also recovered last night, and it wasn’t a loose ball.

Before this glorious season began, I was one of the many who had invested in the football machine- heart, soul, and wallet. While I might have been better advised to take better care of my heart, worship in church instead of on the field of dreams, and invest my cash on my family and their futures, I chose to invest all of these properties on a team playing a game.

My perspective, however, completely changed immediately through a simple, yet very unfortunate accident. One April day earlier this year, I filled out my season ticket form after having improved my Hokie Club standing by another level and set the application aside to add the payment check later. I never remembered to write that check, and the application was tossed away most likely mixed in a pile of junk mail. The whole matter just slipped from my mind. I, in fact, believed I’d receive my new tickets as usual in August. When they never arrived, I investigated and learned of my stupidity, then sank into a foolish depression. Over the past couple of months, I’ve bounced back by redefining what I enjoy and don’t enjoy about the game and university I love.

Much of what I enjoy is hard to describe adequately in print, but I wanted to try anyway. Strolling across a beautiful campus from edge to edge is a treat I relish on game day. I could park closer to the stadium, but I choose to park far away and briskly walk through my past and my child’s future. Usually, I’m joined by my 17 year-old son on these walks, and we share thoughts about the upcoming game while I point out building after building. Sometimes I show him “secret’ places on campus that were important to campus survival for me-like the second floor bathroom in McBryde.-aka. relief station. When you’re walking across campus and have a bladder that likes exercise, a predictable relief station is always important. Sometimes my son and I just fall into a quiet, brisk pace and make a determined crossing. At those times, my thoughts return to times past when I made my way alone to class deep in my own thoughts. I sorted through all the dark, tangled issues that seemed always to silently confront me during my college days, those many years ago.

I love strolling through the parking lots and seeing people having fun. It seems to me, as a grown person who works for a living every day, that older people just don’t have enough fun. I’m more of an observer than a participant in the revelry. In the lots around campus, you’ll find people huddled together telling stories, meeting their new best stranger friend, playing “washers,” “beer pong” or “some kind of bean bag game.” It’s a carnival of sorts with wandering minstrels, bards, and games. You really can’t compare the spreads offered by each happy station. All offer something unique. All are filled with optimism, generosity, and friendliness. One lot has the greatest community block party that I’ve ever witnessed. That’s where a lot of posters here hang out. Another, a bit of a hike from the stadium, is worth the trip just for the relaxed atmosphere and the incredible homebrewed IPA and Belgium Ale. I shall not reveal the exact location of that gem.

Lane stadium is my home. It has always been special to me. When I was younger, I’d sneak in there on dark nights and just sit in the stands on the east side. To me, the stadium seemed somehow to be comforting me. It seemed to listen to my stories. Since those days, Lane has told me many stories: many of triumph and some of inconsolable sadness.

Being an intense fan is something that feeds me. The rush you get when you stand and scream your head off is almost unrivaled. When the crowd rises as one unit and affects the game is heady stuff. Watching the precision marching of the Highty-Tighties and the raw energy of the Marching Virginians amazes me. Seeing players on the field “fly around the ball” thrills me. At times, I want to storm the field during the game and join the team as they attempt to vanquish their opponent. Other times, I’m content to be the sky cam, hovering just over each player’s shoulder.

As VT has grudgingly grown upon the nation’s conscience, though some of what makes VT unique and special has been compromised and lost. VPI isn’t referred to as “The Home of the Fighting Gobblers” much anymore, unless it’s some media hotshot poking fun. In fact VPI isn’t referred to as VPI much anymore. As ticket prices, club membership fees, and demand have escalated beyond the absurd in recent years, the clarion call of the innocent, yet fiery gobbler is heard less and less. I’ve now realized that I really couldn’t have afforded to buy my five tickets this year even if I hadn’t screwed up my application. I’m also thinking that I won’t be in any better shape next year, especially if prices continue to rise.

Most of all, I really dislike the hype. I’ve always thought that VT plays its best football when it has more than a chip on its team shoulder. However, now instead of a chip, we just have dandruff flakes. The monster that feeds us all and the university is also the monster that has corrupted certain parts of our soul. I view the talking heads as more of burbling leeches these days. I wish we could just pluck them off, toss them away, and heal ourselves naturally. They make our players look for lights and cause our coaches to act giddy. Yes, I know that it all goes with the territory, but maybe I just don’t like the country that territory goes through.

Unexpectedly, I felt that the people sitting in my section finally bonded. In previous games, I felt we were all trying hard to learn how to behave around each other. Instead of family members, we all felt like the strangers that outside our Neverland we were. However, at the Miami game, some stood and cheered. Some sat and screamed. I didn’t observe one person yelling at anyone else to sit down. We were of one purpose. We became a family last night. In many respects, the team wasted us.

Last night, somewhere in the third quarter something happened that I didn’t expect. The realization began to dawn on almost everyone that this game was most likely out of reach. My wife told me this morning that on television during the game, the crowd got noticeably quiet and contemplative. However, beyond my most hopeful expectation, the crowd returned to the game and seemed to find new purpose and new passion-a return to an older, deeper way of being a fan. Instead of bailing on the game and leaving the stadium, sulking away like wet cats from a bath, we mostly stayed and rallied. The crowd noise swelled with supportive cheers. When the ordeal was completed, instead of leaving right away, more than the usual number of fans stayed behind and cheered as the team headed from the locker room to the tunnel. Neverland is alive around Blacksburg.

I stood just outside the center of Lane for “The Walk” last night. To my west, a crescent moon ascended by Venus slowly drifted behind the horizon in the golden crystal sky. Behind me, Lane loomed over my shoulder. For some reason as the walk was winding down, I turned and was struck by what I saw on that stadium. A light. A lonely light in one of the new turrets had been left on. It shined out across the darkening sky as a warning. I thought of the Old North Church Tower at the beginning of the Revolution. “One if by land, two if by sea.” It occurred to me since I saw the warning light, that the first shots of our war began last night. While the team may have lost the battle, the Nation proved that there is something intangible that only surfaces when times are the toughest- a special spirit and respectful pride.

That was just a game. The opponent this time is more than a rival; it’s a timeless enemy. It’s an opponent that challenges us all to reach for an even greater bond.

Nikki Giovanni, Virginia Tech poet, ended her most amazing comments at the convocation broadcast around the world this way,

"Through our blood and tears, through all this sadness ... we are Virginia Tech."

The crowd responded by rising to their feet and shouting in unison, “Let’s go Hokies!”

Monday, April 16, 2007

Unimaginable Horror

Unimaginable Horror

Last night a wind descended on Southwest Virginia, a dark gale. Last night I began reading Harry Potter, The Half-Blood Prince. On the opening pages, Fudge informs the Prime Minister that dementors are on the loose. Little did I know that that fiction would become a reality in the place I love most.

The details are not all in yet, but the fact is that 33 people were killed at my beloved university, Virginia Tech, today. My tears still haven’t stopped flowing. So many thoughts. So many questions? Why here? Why those people? Why now? Rumors abound, but no confirmation has come from authorities. Several facts and substantial rumors have percolated out. The shooter chained the doors in Norris Hall before the executions. The shooter targeted people in Norris Hall trying to root out…well I won’t state that here before it’s confirmed.

My son attends Virginia Tech, and when I first heard the news, I had a sinking feeling that he may somehow be in the middle of it all. It turns out that he had a passing glance at the violence.

Here’s what he wrote to me just minutes after the Norris Hall shooting, before he knew anyone was killed…

Mom and Dad,

Just to let you all know, I'm sure you will hear about it, but there have been shootings all over the place this morning. I didn't know anything about these until I was walking back from Robertson's class at about 9:42 this morning and I heard about 15 shots in quick succession from a handgun (a small one since there were 15 rounds) coming from the area around the back of Burress/McBryde. Anyway, I was beside McBryde, still on upper quad watching. No one reacted at first and then I started to hear sirens.

Periodically there were 1 or 2 shots and then the police started flying up. We are talking SWAT vans and unmarked cars doing 50-60 mph around the drillfield and up the sidewalks. It was intense. They all got down behind their doors and stuff like in the movies. It was insane. I just got back to the room and found all of these messages in my inbox, one of which said this at 9:50 am (While I was watching the shooting):

"A gunman is loose on campus. Stay in buildings until further notice.

Stay away from all windows"

Good stuff... the year starts off with a shooting and ends with one. What started the whole thing apparently was a shooting in AJ this morning.

Anyway, I'll call you all tonight to fill you in on FEX and all of that. I am fine though, just a little excitement.

Later, after more was known but before the full scope of the tragedy was apparent, he sent this email…

According to the CNN Press release 22 are dead including the gunman. I can't believe it. The campus is closed all day, classes still cancelled tomorrow. I just can't believe it... the police response time was under 30 seconds, and I saw them get there that fast. They did everything right, it just shows what one determined person can do with a gun. The campus is secure right now and there was only one gunman. I have tried getting through to you all on the phones but I can't get service (the phones are clogged with traffic) and can't check my voicemail. I'll try calling mom since I know where she is. In any case, I am fine and everyone I know is also okay (although Alyson lives in West AJ but is in Seattle right now and Ben, the guy Callan worked with, lives in AJ). I'll be in touch


That response by the police was amazing. I’ve heard reports that SWAT teams streamed across the campus drillfield at full speed. My son was clear that they were on scene within 30 (later he said 45 seconds) seconds of the first wave of shooting at Norris Hall. The eerie cell phone coverage of the shooting that's been replayed over and over on CNN makes me cry. My son later told me that after the shooting, he and his buddy looked at each other and questioned what they had heard. Then a police officer directed them to immediately take cover.

My emotions are all mixed right now. Why didn’t authorities do something to prevent this horrible tragedy? I’m sure authorities did everything they could based on what they knew and what they knew they could do. There is much yet to learn, but many innocent students lost their lives today in a senseless action that will forever be etched into the history of my university.

My heart reaches out to those injured and killed and my heart breaks for my university. It will never be the same.

Sunday, April 15, 2007



MC Nuts really gets it. This squirrel rapper knows Wordsworth like no nut knows Wordsworth. If you haven’t seen this wonderful rap, I highly suggest you check it out. The group that produced the rap is apparently the Cumbria Tourist Board. Cumbria is located on the central west coast of the United Kingdom. It’s a land of lakes and poetry, apparently.

Telegraph TV

Speaking of lovely plants and nuts; I’m hip deep in tomatoes and peppers. My wife says that I’m nuts for growing so many. Currently, I have transferred 640 plants to individual pots. Each transfer is a delicate and painstaking process. I consult my computer-generated diagram of my seed flats, then label a craft stick, label a Dixie cup, and then carefully transfer the tiny plant from the small flat container to the luxurious Dixie cup pot. It’s probably a good thing that I had the week off from school as the job took me the better part of five days to transfer the plants from my six flats. Each flat has 72 cells, and I generally put two to three seeds in each cell initially. I weed out the weak and keep only the strong. Some might wonder what a person does with 640 (and counting) tomato and pepper plants. Well, I spend a great deal of time watering them, shifting around my make-shift lighting arrangement inside my house, and explaining to police that the high intensity lights that shine through my windows are illuminating only legal crops. When it gets warm enough hopefully next week, I’ll begin moving some out to my bright garage. Then when they are ready in mid May, I’ll sell a bunch; hopefully enough o offset the cost of the seeds, soil, lights, craft sticks, flats, and cups. I’ll probably give the rest away. I’ll be a little like Johnny Appleseed with tomatoes and peppers.

Look for my catalog to come out soon. In the meantime, here’s a link to last year’s plant care guide from this blog.

Next week will be extremely busy for me. I have RCEA meeting to run on Monday, Tuesday I have another after school meeting. Wednesday I get to interview a candidate for state Senate to see if my education association group can endorse him, Wednesday, I head to VA Beach for a convention, and my dog is being medicated for various issues from inflamed liver, prednisone dependency, ear infection, and hypo thyroidism. Plus, I’ve got to water those tomatoes and peppers.