Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Windstorm Blows Away 2008

The last day of the year, a year that I will hope to forget in many respects. I decided to get up before first light this morning and head to my favorite rock out-cropping along the Appalachian trail just south of Rt 311 near Catawba, Virginia. The wind had come howling through at about 5 in the morning and gusts were already winding up to about 50-60 mph. I got to my rock just after the sun broke above the Roanoke Valley. The air was so crisp and clear. The sun was magnificent as it turned the puffy clouds to orange and purple pillows. Soon the howling wind began lifting leaves up to the heavens by the thousand. Each leaf looked like a fiery ember launched from a firestorm, instead the wind was the master of the day.

Here's a record:
Sunrise Over The Roanoke Valley: New Years' Eve 2008

Tree Glow

Flying Leaves

Catawba Valley. I found this fresh location on the side of a mountain. I stood on a rock and pointed the camera roughly north north east. The shot captures the northern portion of Catawba Valley. Tinker Cliffs is visible in the distance to the right. North Ridge is on the left.

Here's a raw video taken with my digital camera of the glowing leaves being blown upwards. There was one particular gust that launched ten times more leaves than this particular gust. I'll never forget that moment.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Accidental Herbalist

The Accidental Herbalist

I have know idea how I suddenly became master of the herbs, but there you go. I’ve always been intrigued by growing herbs…legal ones. In fact, I don’t think I’d even know what the illegal ones look like. Well, that’s not true. The truth is I never…that’s another story.

Let me start again. I’ve always been intrigued by herbs and have always wanted to be a successful herb cultivator. In my gardens in the past, I’ve prided myself in my ability to grow green beans and peas, but I’ve always failed miserably at growing corn and potatoes. The same is true for herbs. I find that I can grow any kind of mint easily, and the catnip around my house is virtually out of control in the summer. In fact, I think it’s beginning to squeeze out the grass in my lawn.

As fall came upon us this year, I successfully harvested several trash bags of catnip which I dried and then broke up, condensing the haul into one solid quart-sized “brick.” Several people commented that the brick looked a little illegal, but I assure you that wasn’t the case. After a few weeks of letting it hang around in my garage, I gave the brick to my parents and their two cats, Ginger and Pearl. I’m not sure, but I think my catnip contributed to Ginger’s recent attack on my father.

Ginger, after sleeping in a chair of catnip, went to sleep in my father’s bed. Sometime during the night, he moved his foot under the covers, and Ginger, a skinny, wild tortoise-shell cat, pounced on the moving mound with her claws and teeth ripping into my father’s leg. His skin is rather paper thin these days, and he found himself wounded, bleeding profusely. He had to go visit his plastic surgeon to get specialized wound care which consists primarily of wearing a very uncomfortable netted stocking for several weeks. Ginger…she scampered off to her pile of catnip.

Anyway, back to my herb story.

So last year, I grew an herb garden with my new Aerogarden™. I must say that the garden was quite successful. When it was about spent, I transferred the herbs outside into a little flower bed garden on the south side of my house. The oregano did well as did the basil, but the rosemary absolutely took off. It grew extremely fast and began to spread and smother out everything in the bed. I fully expected the rosemary to die at first freeze, but it weathered the cold and continued to thrive despite temperatures in the low teens on several nights.

So two days ago, I decided I needed to do something with the rosemary. I needed to trim it back, at least a little bit. So I went out with my pruning shears and captured 3-13 gallon trash bags of rosemary sprigs. Now, I’m no herbalist. In fact, I’ve always gotten rosemary confused with thyme, but no longer. Rosemary is a stem and stubby-leafed herb that spreads along the ground and grows into low growing shrubs if allowed to go wild. That’s where mine was heading. It looks like the needles on a Frazier Fir - stiff, elongated needles.

I did some reading and discovered that fresh sprigs of rosemary are selling on eBay for $0.99 plus shipping/handling. I wasn’t much interested in getting involved with eBay or messing with rosemary that much, but it was apparent that I had about $750 worth of rosemary should I choose to go that route. I also discovered that other than selling it fresh, rosemary can be dried or frozen. Drying is a common way of processing rosemary, but the herb loses some potency. Freezing is less common, but since the needles are so stiff, they freeze well.

Right then and there, I decided that I would freeze my rosemary. So I began by cutting the long stems into manageable pieces. Then I rinsed them and loaded the pieces into my salad spinner. From there, I put the needle-filled stems into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag and tossed them into my freezer. After a couple of weeks, I’ll take the bags out and separate the needles from the stems. The needles should crumble off if I roll them with a rolling pin. Then I’ll put the needles into quart-sized baggies or mason jars before and put them back in the freezer. I just might save the stems to use as lamb skewers. So far, I’ve put up two-gallon sized bags, and I’ve only touched about ½ of my first garbage bag of rosemary.

I made several unusual discoveries while working with this herb. The first is that rosemary smells up a house. I mean it has a powerful evergreen odor, like a pine forest on steroids. The plant has a light sticky sap that coats your hands and the odor permeates your clothing. Last night I had a hard time sleeping because my body reeked of rosemary scent. I read online that rosemary is used as a base in many perfumes. I can certainly understand why. I think it’s what gives perfume that relentless odor. I also read that rosemary supposedly cures headaches, soothes an upset stomach, and helps sharpen a person’s memory. I don’t know about that, but I do know that it gives me a headache.

My second discovery is that when you rinse rosemary in a stainless steel bowl, the water turns lime green. It looks like it would be good to drink, but I’m skeptical. I read somewhere that,

Many livestock deaths are attributable to wild species of the blueberry family, such as lambkill and laurel, but human beings have to eat a lot of leaves to get sick. The Delaware Aboriginal people reportedly used laurel tea to commit suicide; it must have taken quite a brew to get fatal effects.

Being that rosemary looks dangerous, I imagine a tea that will cause me to convulse and wretch.

My other discovery really took me by surprise. As I was spinning the herb in my salad spinner, I began to hear a fizzing sound. I uncovered the spinner, pulled out the rosemary basket, and there at the bottom of the spinner was a true fizzing lime green liquid. It looked and sounded just like those Fizzies from the 1950’s. Pop a tablet in, watch it fizz and turn green, red, or blue. I loved green. I also loved Alka-Seltzer until I had to drink it.

So tomorrow, I need to finish processing the other two and a half garbage bags of rosemary. I sure hope I don’t turn lime green and fizz myself away.

A sprig of Rosemary

A typically long stem of Rosemary

One of my two gallon sized baggies of Rosemary

My haul so far

One bag

Ready for washing and drying

Saturday, December 27, 2008


I didn't actually see the sun go down tonight, but my attention was pulled away from the football tele just in time to see the bloodshot afterglow of sunset this evening. I rushed outside with my electronic digital camera to snap this shaky photograph.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Dr. Horrible


Merry Christmas!

I'm here to tell you that if you do nothing else this holiday season, please treat yourself to Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog

This is a unique new form of Internet musical if you will starring Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie/How I Met Your Mother) and the star of the show Firefly, Nathan Fillion .

It's the musical story of an evil wanna-be as he struggles to impress his girl and to rule the world with his freeze ray. The story is fantastic, both tragic and comedic. The music and lyrics are spell-binding. The acting is top-notch. In short, this is the best thing I've seen on TV in quite some time...and it's never been on TV...only on the Internet.

Regarding Hope

Below is my Holiday letter to family and friends...

Regarding Hope

We use the word 'hope' perhaps more often than any other word in the vocabulary: 'I hope it's a nice day.’ 'Hopefully, you're doing well.’ 'So how are things going along? Pretty good. Going to be good tomorrow? Hope so.'
Studs Terkel


When we reflect on the passing of 2008, we are anxious for it to be over.

Jackie’s father passed away in April after seven months of rehabilitation from heart surgery and assorted complications. His suffering was protracted and his death was tragic, but his passing was filled with hope. Just a few weeks prior to his passing, Jack called together his friends and family for a “Hallelujah Party.” He wanted everyone he knew to understand just how much he appreciated their love and friendship over the years. His party was a grand success.

I could go into details chronicling other misfortunes from 2008, but this is a hopeful (and faithful) time of year. So instead, I’m bringing you a slice of beauty this season.

Over the summer, just as gasoline prices peaked at close to $5.00 a gallon, we decided to pack up the family and head off on a grand expedition to Maine. Our goal was to get away as a family and have an adventure together. We knew that with Sam and Callan getting older, this would most likely be the last time we would be able to take a grand family vacation.

Our trip to Maine fulfilled every expectation. We loaded the same vehicle that took us across the United States in 2003, our Dodge Grand Caravan, with luggage and gasoline and headed north. We spent several days exploring Acadia National Park along the coast. Acadia is the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited, more so than the peaks in Glacier National Park, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, The Pacific Coast, and the rolling ridges of the Allegheny’s. We stayed just on the outskirts of Bar Harbor and spent lots of hours walking from shop to shop and watching the sunset in that beautiful town. The first evening we spent there, we raced up nearby Cadillac Mountain to catch the sunset at about 8:00. From the rocky-knobbed summit of this highest point on the east coast of North America, you have an unfettered 360-degree view stretching from the distant termination of the Appalachian chain to the west to the Atlantic Ocean just to the east. We were back up atop that mountain again the following morning to catch the sunrise at 4:30am. On that day in July, we were among the first people in America to see the sunrise.

Our trip also included a delightful mountain bike expedition along the endless carriage roads throughout the park and a kayak excursion around the small islands in Bar Harbor. We leisurely cruised the Maine coast through Searsport, Belfast, Lincolnville, and Rockland before turning toward Portland and the home of some good friends. After visiting and dining in the city then Lobstering in the harbor, we invested in oil stock to make our way home again.

Callan is in the midst of her senior year in high school. She has narrowed her choices to three fine in-state universities and hopes to hear from them soon. Earlier in the year, Callan was elected to be president of the Future Business Leaders of America chapter, elected to become a member of the National Honor Society, and appointed to serve as school ambassador at Northside High. These days, Callan is immersed in swim season. She’s the captain of her swim team, and she has been fortunate to be the student assistant for the swim team coach. In addition to swimming, Callan is beginning to prepare for her final piano recital in May. Her outlook for 2009 is hopeful.

Sam is entering the second semester of his junior year at Virginia Tech. He was recently appointed to one of the top leadership positions in his battalion in the VT Corps of Cadets for second semester. This position carries with it a major perk-a room all to himself. At the beginning of the school year, Sam was in charge of new cadets for his company and earned the Diamond Award for Leadership. During the summer, Sam spent ten days at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training center in the rugged mountains of California. He also spent the summer coaching the City of Charlottesville swim team. Sam enters 2009 feeling confident that he made the right choice in hitching his future alongside the U.S. Marine Corps. He’s looking forward with resolute hopefulness.

In these difficult times, we choose to look toward the future. We wish you beauty and prosperity, a hopeful prayer.


Hope is the most exciting thing there is in life.

Mandy Moore

To hope is to believe.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Standing Next to Pam Ward

Standing Next to Pam Ward

Yes...THE Pam Ward, ESPN sports commentator,...and the guy with greasy hair who was working the game with her.

Seriously, I had a blast operating the parabolic microphone at today's D-III national championship game, The Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, in Salem. The Mount Union (Ohio) Purple Raiders were back to dethrone Wisconsin-Whitewater War Hawks in what’s become their private championship.

I was in Far Left, which is located on the Visitor's 20-yard line as you view the game. I learned that holding the parabolic (mini-satellite dish) is an isometric arm curling activity. After a quarter, you begin to feel the burn. By the end of the third quarter, your arms feel as if they want to float away when you let go of the microphone. The end of the game you experience arm ecstasy.

I had a great time trying to capture the clearest possible crunching hits. I also was trying hard to get inside sideline huddles to hear the coach's instructions to the players. As the game tightened in the last few minutes, the special teams' coach for Whitewater huddled the group up right in front of me. I was able to get every inspiring syllable. Then I also got a clear smack on the onside kick tackle.

I had to dive out of the way twice. The first time was on a slip screen where the TB broke to the outside and was tackled at my feet out of bounds. The other time was when a Whitewater receiver (#87) dropped a first down sideline pass right in front of me.

I also got some great sound from the Whitewater QB's journey through the air, into, and over the Mount Union bench. Caught the head coach and QB from Whitewater whining about the officiating as well.

One conversation I tapped was between the head of the NCAA Championship committee and the field director. Apparently, some local youth ruffians were "throwing Skittles at the players on the Whitewater bench." Little hellions.

Other cool things that I experienced: Old man playing the snare drum for the Whitewater band dressed in a smart purple suit and tie. Old Mount Union equipment manager who came up to me and started up a conversation before the game, treating me as if I was some important official. He'd "...been to all of 'em." (Mount Union seems to always play for the national title.) The ESPN snack spread: since this was this crew's last game, the lady in charge of us told us to take all of the son and his friends proceeded to strip the table bare. I ended up with salt n Vinegar chips and a can of Fresca. I was taller than most of the players on both teams, and I'm only 5' 10". Yet these guys were extremely athletic. In fact, I think that the players on both the teams play much better fundamental ball than players at D-I schools. They form tackle and play their positions. When I got there, I thought that it was odd for Salem to be re-roofing the stadium field house on game day. Turns out they were setting up very cheesy fireworks...I'm surprised the fire marshal let them get away with that stunt. Finally, the Whitewater cheerleaders were very nice. They were standing right behind me, and I heard one whisper to another that "...he can probably hear every word we say..." I nodded my head that that was indeed true. A little later, that same cheerleader was part of a stack of cheerleaders. She became the roof of the pyramid and some other girl was hoisted up to stand on her flat stomach. Nice.

I know this didn’t have much to do with Pam Ward. I will say, however, that I really dig Pam as a game announcer. I know a lot of people on Internet message boards are always trashing her, but not me.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Howlin' Dog

My dog, Riley, tends to howl whenever I play my harmonica or pennywhistle. Her latest concert happened as I was playing "Shenandoah" to placate the mountain gods at Buzzards Rock on Read Mountain in Roanoke County, Virginia.

As I neared the end of the first verse, she rammed me and messed up my ending. Then in the middle of the second verse, she rammed me harder. With the song busted beyond repair and the camera still rolling, I launched into a little square dance type piece I play from time to time.

Riley immediately went off. Now I don't claim to understand why she howls. I don't know if she's excited or bothered by my noise, but if she hates it, she sure seems to enjoy it after its over.

I stopped by the side of the road on Saturday to just listen for a few minutes.

Mason's Mill is a park developed from the remnants of a mill that burned down in 1924 along Tinker Creek in Roanoke City. The site is located near 13th Street where it meets Orange Avenue. The park is rather neglected and littered with empty beer cases and broken glass. The signs that used to teach about the old mill are time-worn.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Hope You Like The New Me

Perhaps a soul has to be tortured, tormented, and abused to express the feelings that Thompson taps into in this song.

Hope You Like The New Me
Written by Richard Thompson
Appears on Mock Tudor (1999)

I stole your style
Hope you don't mind
I must try to be all I can be
It suits me more
Than it ever suited you
Hope you like the new me

I stole your laugh
So bright and breezy
It stops parties in mid-air
It makes me feel more devil-may-care
Hope you like the new me
Hope you like the new me

We all need friends to lean on
Any time, any place, anywhere
Feel free to lean on me
But please don't do it right now
Yes I'm much too busy right now

I stole your walk
The one with purpose
That says there is no mountain I can't climb
It fools people all of the time
Hope you like the new me

I stole your jokes
Just the good ones
How the gang all laughed with glee
I also stole
The way that you tell them
Hope you like the new me
Hope you like the new me

To steal is to flatter
What a compliment to pay
All those things that I stole from you
Well I might give them back someday
Yes I really might someday

I stole your wife
Hope you don't mind
She was looking bored don't you think
I'll soon have her back in the pink
Stop by and see us for tea

I stole your soul
When you weren't looking
I reached inside and cut it free
It suits me more
Than it ever suited you
Hope you like the new me
Hope you like the new me

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Taking Care of You

Taking Care of You

You’ve been old for so long, although you’re only 72. Years of working every day in the men’s department of a local department store have taken their toll on you both physically and mentally. Some days, you don’t know who you are. Other days, you just want to end it all, but you never actually have the guts to follow through. Your wife has her own issues as well. She doesn’t get around much any more. She’s a recluse and hasn’t been seen outdoors much over the last thirty years. It wasn’t always that way. She used to be the life of the party. Perhaps when she came to the realization that she’d never have children, she began backing away from everyone and everything, except you.

You never made much money in your job, and it wasn’t socially appropriate for your wife to hold down a job. Yet despite it all, you managed to scrimp and save enough to buy a simple ranch house in a quiet neighborhood. Your only true love, your dog, died of complications from old age last year, and you’ve been more alone than ever since that day. Your neighbor has a pretty dog that reminds you of your love. Every day, you call to her from your back steps and over the two fences. She always comes to her fence and wags her tail and smiles at you. In many respects, it’s that daily moment that keeps you going.

You’ve been sick. While the department store didn’t ever have any benefits like health insurance, you’ve always relied on the VA. Your days in the Army serving your country in Korea taught you how to be a man and how to play golf in your idle time. You took that skill home and became quite a player on the local scene, but your passion was in organizing golf programs. Over the years, you organized countless tournaments and focused on getting kids started in the game. Your community responded by inducting you in the local golf Hall of Fame.

The VA has always accepted you in times of crisis. When you ran away and slept in your car for a month at a local home improvement store parking lot, it was the VA that took you in and provided physiological assistance. When you got the gout in your leg, the VA took you in and treated it. When your wife fell ill, they came to her aid as well.

You expected and received help when you got dizzy and fell a couple of weeks ago. The fall really hurt, and you did something to your ankle. Of more concern is what caused you to fall. Over the past few years, you’ve picked up a lot of pounds, and your wife is always hounding you about losing the weight. But there’s really nothing you seem able or willing to do. Getting out and walking seems to difficult, and going to a gym is simply out of the question. The medications you take to control your depression seem to pile on weight. It’s all just too much to cope with really, and you feel lost.

The ambulance came that morning you fell, but they simply taped up the ankle and left. You suppose that they were shooed away by your wife since she didn’t want you to go away from her again. By the afternoon, however, it was apparent to both of you that you really needed to be treated at the VA Hospital. So despite not being sure how you were going to be able to pay for the ride in the ambulance since you barely made ends meet as it is on your veteran’s pension and social security, you ask to be taken to the hospital.

Two weeks go by. They hooked you up to machines and tested you seemingly with every test in existence. They hooked you up to oxygen to help get your oxygen levels up. They thought that maybe you fell because of that. They’re worried about your heart; perhaps you have congestive heart failure. This scares you, but deep down you know that you really need to be cared for right now, so you don’t fight the diagnosis.

As you pass the time in semi-wakefulness, sometimes you think that you’re back at the department store selling suits and ties. Other times, you travel back in time to when you were a young man growing up on your parents' Wythe County farm. It doesn’t seem so long ago. The drugs free your thoughts and allow you to wander in and out of realities and fantasies. Your nurse sure is pretty. She reminds you of your wife when she was younger.

Slowly your eyes come into focus. You’re sitting in your Subaru Outback in the passenger side staring a brick wall. The engine is running. The heat’s blowing a full gale, and it's way too warm. You have no clue where you are or why you’re there. It must be some kind of dream. As you glance slowly away from the wall, you see a rusted silver fence and an overgrown yard. Home. You are looking at your backyard. The car’s running. Your door is locked. The car’s running. Time slips away from you.

A rustling sound jars you. Someone is out there, walking in the pile of leaves by the fence. You can see him outlined in the dark night sky. He’s telling you to unlock your door. You fumble around trying to find some kind of switch or knob. Finally, your hand finds it, and the door clicks.

The door opens and a face pops inside right next to you. It asks you something. It’s your neighbor, the owner of the dog a couple of fences away. He says he’s going to help you into the house. You agree. You untangle yourself from the oxygen bottle that takes up the back seat, and he gets the walker from back there and places it in front of you. At first, you’re wobbly and nearly keel over from the dizziness in your head and weakness in your legs. But the neighbor has you in a firm grip. You hear him tell you to lean forward, and you take one-step at a time. Walker down. Step. Walker down. Step. You concentrate hard and gradually make it through your backyard gate and the slippery leaves that have piled up high against it. You struggle to the steps that lead to your family room. With the neighbor behind you, you grab the step rails with an iron grip and haul yourself up one-step at a time. Once to the top, your walker appears in front of you, and you take three more steps before collapsing in your favorite recliner.

Events and details come slowly into focus after you get hooked back up to your bottle of oxygen. You simply don’t understand why the VA kicked you out. Why couldn’t they send you to a rehab unit if your hospital allowance had expired? Who’s going to take care of you now? Your wife is almost as frail as you. There’s no family. What kind of country is this? Is this how your country repays you for your service all those years ago? It’s a good thing the recliner is comfortable.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Thanksgiving: Good Times in Photograph

Thanksgiving at Brenda's house was another great success. Thanks for sharing the space with all of us, Brenda. Hope you enjoy the pictures. Videos are coming soon.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Broken Innocence

Broken Innocence

Fortune is a giver and a taker

~Polish Proverb

I looked into her eyes and saw a future with her by my side. A sly mist, however, clouded my vision, and I never foresaw the deep darkness that would follow me, just out of sight around the corner every day I spent with her.

I was so young. Back then, I could go almost a whole week without shaving. In fact, I frequently let my facial hair grow, just to see how long I could go before I’d have to shave. The first few days, whiskers would fail to give any notice. Then gradually, they’d begin to appear just below my lip before finally attacking my chin and sprouting down my neck. They never ever worked their way up the side of my face to join together with my weak sideburns. A can of Barbasol and a sharp razor were all I needed to maintain my boyish face.

She turned my head the very first time I saw her. 5’3”. Sandy brown shoulder-length hair lightly feathered in Farah Fawcett style. An engaging smile, and so very smart. Little did I know that she would break my heart time after time.