Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

The MV Explorer is at speed - 28 knots - detouring towards the coast of SA to rendezvous with a medical helicopter as we have a passenger who requires hospitalization. Another passenger fainted and fell while we were in port, breaking her hip. She is in a hospital in Santarem awaiting her evacuation to the U.S. Just a reminder of the unpleasantries that can occur despite the best of plans, the most wonderful of adventures. As if another reminder is necessary...

I have recovered from the 24/48 hour virus that began to present itself as we were entering the port at Manaus. This virus - probably a Norovirus - is very annoying for a short period of time, thrives on passenger ships, and is very cleansing. While I did spend most of my first day in Brazil in my cabin, the second day's activities did proceed as scheduled, if at a slower pace.

My second day's planned trip, to the Amazon EcoPark (, was wonderful. We traveled by river boat an hour and a half up the Rio Negro, had lunch, played in the natural swimming pools, listened to a lecture, and toured the rainforest. As I did not want to overdo it, instead of the walking tour I found a swing and took a nap. Afterwards I walked down to the dock and hung out with the boat crew.

After a days travel & rest we ported at Santarem. My day was spent first at a forest tour that ended at a village where the locals showed us how they process manioc into flour. Ever had tapioca? They then fed us local fruits and juices. I am becoming very fond of acai.Alter do Chao Then we bussed to the village of Alter do Chao where we swam in the Tapajos River, relaxed on the white sand beach, and later drank Brahma Beer and tourist shopped. That is me lying on the beach in the shade.

So if you were expecting a typical Brazilian photo, just remember who's blog this is. I have more photos coming to my Flickr account as time permits. As Brazil and the Amazon are a bit overwhelming, I am still collecting my thoughts.

The medical helicopter is overhead as I write this, my best wishes to our stricken passenger.

Tomorrow, Trinidad.

And Happy New Year to Y'all.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Brazilian FlagMerry Christmas from 01 degrees 44.92S, 053 degrees 11.7W; a.k.a. somewhere on the Amazon. We entered the river's mouth yesterday afternoon and, after poking along for the first 100 kilometers or so, are making about 22 knots.

The waters are calm and brown, the shorelines green, the skies cloudy, the air humid and cooler than most would expect. Some awful contemporary country Christmas song is on the ship's music channel.

Life aboard has settled into a routine defined by food service, sleep, and presentations provided by our professors and visiting lecturers. When at sea we average about 3 hours of lectures a day. Unlike my undergraduate behavior aboard the Ryndam, I am usually early to class and sit up front. I have not missed many. In the interest of full disclosure, my attendance has been helped by the showing of lectures over the ship's TV channel into my room where I can watch from the comfort of my bunk.

We dock in Manaus tomorrow about noon. Until then I will finish a novel by Brazilian Jorge Amado, wander the decks taking photos, and think about all of my friends and family I wish were here to share this with me.

And I am going to throttle that music channel.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cheeseburger in Paradise

Yesterday overlooking the harbor in Saint Barthelemy I had a cheeseburger w/ fries. Inspired by a similar experience in a restaurant a block or so from where we were lunching, Jimmy Buffett wrote the song that titles this post.

I SO understand.
As the restaurant, like Saint Barts, is french, it may have been the best cheeseburger I have ever tasted; it surely was the most expensive.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Amazon Expedition 2008

MV Explorer Morning 3I am posting this somewhere (actually lat. 19 degrees, 13.32 N, long. 067 degrees 46.64 W) in the Caribbean aboard the MV Explorer, mothership of the Semester-at-Sea program of the Institute for Shipboard Education, currently academically sponsored by the University of Virginia. I posted about our plans last May. For more information try here, Enrichment Voyages.

All has proceeded according to plan; the ship is quite nice, staff and crew organized, helpful, and professional. The MV Explorer is perhaps the fastest ship of its class, capable of 30 knots. But we are loafing along about 17. We have experience a moderate amount of wind and wave action since leaving Nassau, precipitating a bit of lurching about, rolling stomachs, and my disinclination to type on a moving laptop. Thus a delay in getting this post up.

So far I have attended 4 lectures, with two more scheduled later today. All very well done. The educational component of this voyage is as I had hoped.

I will be posting photos in a folder on my Flickr account almost daily. If you are interesting in following along click here. As we have a good Wi-Fi set up, keep those emails coming. I will respond.

St. Barts tomorrow. I will post more observations when this screen stops rocking and rolling.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Saving the Planet, One Flush at a Time

Last week I installed a new toilet. The old one - an early 1.6 gallon per flush (GPF) model - just was not doing the job. Holding a plunger with one hand while flushing with the other and hoping for the best is just not dignified.

In researching for a replacement I looked for a model that both did the job and saved water. This Toto model (Aquia II Dual Flush) does both.

Now every time I pee and use the 0.9 GPF button 0.7 gallons of water is saved. A big relief for me and a small one for the environment!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts

Doug Clark Program - Front Cover
Several weeks ago I mentioned seeing the Doug Clark's Hot Nuts van and trailer on a Friday afternoon on I-440 outside Raleigh. The sight brought back memories, which I recounted. My nephew then commented that he had seen them when he was at Hampton-Sydney in the 90's, about 30 years after I did, wisely providing no details. My little sister emailed saying she too had seen them as an undergrad not long after I did. (If Kevin can handle that revelation I suppose I can too.) 
Today, while looking for something else, I ran across the program I bought the night I saw them, either in the late fall of 1965 or early spring '66. I had forgotten all about it. It was written by John Clark, Jr., he of the fancy talkin', who by last accounts is still touring with the band. It cost $1.15 if you had it mailed; probably cost me a buck. I suppose it is a collectors item now; but to me, priceless.
Given that my mentioning the Hot Nuts generated a number of Google referrals to my blog, I have scanned the entire Souvenir Program, all 16 pages, and posted it on my Flickr account for others to enjoy. (Click on "all sizes" to make the pages readable.)
I also found a three-part documentary about the band on YouTube; you can get started here. May not be suitable for ...
Party On.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."

Those of you who know me well may have been puzzled from time to time by my lack of comment about our issues-of-the-day. This blog has been mainly personal, almost entirely apolitical. Almost.

I have had my reasons, not the least of which has been a desire not to needlessly offend my main readers, friends and family. I remember vividly the negativity of the 60's and 70's. It was almost impossible not to be trapped on one side or the other. Middle of the road meant incoming from all directions. It is not much better today. I generally would rather focus my attention on things we might have in common, those that might bring us together. Any fool can dwell on differences, stir up a fuss. Our public political discourse is divisive and crude enough; I did not want to descend into that maelstrom. I can be as nasty and vicious as the next guy; but why bother? Life is short, let's make it as pleasant as we can for everyone.

However, this does not mean I do not have values and standards. This does not mean I am not paying attention. This does not mean I have not been saddened, disappointed and angered - often beyond words - that my country, this land of my ancestors for over 300 years, has been so poorly served during most of my lifetime by its political and business leaders. This does not mean that I am not pissed off.

Despite historic changes I have witnessed that have improved the lives of minorities and women, and secured some measure of acceptance for those in our society who choose to be different, we have failed time and time again to act in accordance with our professed values, to act in our own best interest. This failure is so widespread I could begin anywhere, but it is so deep I do so reluctantly.

I will not outlive the damage to my country, and by extension to me and my family, done during the last eight years by this current administration. That many in this country are finally beginning to wake up to this reality is heartening, but just a bit late. One does seem to be able to fool a large number of people much of the time. But maybe not forever.

What set off this mini diatribe was a seemingly innocuous article on page two in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. (Yes, I subscribe to the WSJ.) The headline that caught my eye proclaimed, "Wealth Gap Is Focus Even As It Shrinks." The lead refers to the Joe-the-Plumber inspired focus on "spreading the wealth in America."

The author, Robert Frank, summed it up nicely,
Over the past week, the McCain campaign attacked Sen. Obama as "the wealth spreader" for his now-famous remark to "Joe the Plumber" that, "I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody." Sen. McCain also likened his Democratic rival's tax plan to socialism, because it would raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 and lower taxes, or keep them level, for the middle class.
The purpose of his article was to note that recessions and stock market declines, like the one we are in now, generally reduce the gap between the rich and poor. The evidence presented was "Share of total income, including capital gains, that accrues to the top 1%", over almost the last 100 years. The graph they used is below.

Income inequality

Ignoring for the time being the complexity of this issue - try this Wikipedia entry for a starter if you like - I was struck by the author's emphasis on the true-enough small declines during the recession years and the overall movement of the line itself. The graph clearly indicates that, reversing the general pattern over the first half of the last century where the percentage of income for the top 1% dropped and then held for about 30 years at about 10%, since about 1980 the percentage has more than doubled, now approaching 25%.

The author concluded with,
The fall in inequality is unlikely to last. Immediately after the 1990 and 2000 recessions, wealth and income shares of the top 1% resumed their upward march. The share of income held by the top 1% rebounded after the 2001 downturn to 22.8% in 2006 -- the highest level since 1928.

When the stock markets return, so will inequality.

If one needs an example of not seeing the forest for the trees...

Clearly someone or something has been for the last quarter century "spreading" our nation's wealth into fewer and fewer pockets. If one believes that this is natural and good, a normal result of capitalism, then let them cheer and drink a toast to Karl Marx who at least agreed that this is a norm of capitalism.

But if one suspects a governmental role in the movement of this graph, as I do, one must be struck by the relationship between the headline, "Wealth Gap....Shrinks," the long-standing and deep support for small laissez-faire government, and low-tax political candidates by the WSJ, and the reality of the graph itself. Maybe this is how to sell papers to the well-to-do.

Let me spell it out. Growing income inequality is a bad thing. A strong middle class is a good thing, as is the opportunity to move upward. Government policy that redistributes wealth into fewer and fewer pockets is a bad thing, a policy developed during the Reagan years and polished by the current administration.

For a political candidate to liken his opponent's tax plan to "socialism" - a stretch at best - and accuse him of being a "wealth spreader" and ignore the reality that his political party has presided over a massive redistribution of wealth into the pockets of the rich is simply too much to ignore. Does he not know? Does he not care? Is there anything he will not say if he thinks it might make him president?

I stand by my previous post.

Monday, October 06, 2008

My October Weekend

The first week in October usually brings the first seriously crisp fall air, those wonderful deep blue October-in-Virginia skies, turning leaves, and for me, memories. This weekend provided new variations on that theme.
It was a road trip weekend. Friday afternoon we drove to Raleigh to hear the Allman Brothers Band with Phil Lesh and Friends at the Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion. Phil and his friends brought back wonderful memories with honorable versions of China Cat Sunflower, The Wheel, and clouded my eyes with I Know You Rider. ABB again played with power and sweetness that version of southern rock they practically invented down in Macon. As they have for almost four decades, Butch and Jaimoe kept the pace. As much as I wanted to hear Duane, Dickie, and Berry front and center, as I did July 19, 1970 at Love Valley, I must admit that Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks and Oteil Burbridge carry on the tradition admirably. And Gregg, after so many miles, sounds just the same.
Saturday morning came early as we flew to Milwaukee for the early afternoon wedding of Sarah, one of my wife's sorority sisters. Anita was the advisor almost 10 years ago when the chapter at Beloit College was formed. Sarah was among those first sisters. The wedding was picture perfect, like the weather, with just the right number of cute and/or crying small children to keep it real. The reception and dinner featured cake cutting, heartfelt and on-key embarrassing speeches by the Best Man and Maid of Honor, dancing to multi-generational music, and most importantly, an open bar. The high point for me was seeing several of the sisters I remember so fondly from my years in Wisconsin. They continue to blossom; that generation is in good hands.
Sunday was spent retracing our route, albeit flying through Detroit rather than Cleveland. We arrived before dusk, happy to have made the trip, happy to be home. But this is not what I really want to write about.
While driving in Raleigh towards the concert Friday afternoon we passed a van pulling a trailer. As soon as I saw what was written on the side of the trailer I started waving at the occupants of the van. Given the four lanes of rush hour traffic I doubt the members of Doug Clark's Hot Nuts saw me. My wife managed to snap a picture with my iPhone before traffic separated us.
Doug Clark's Hot Nuts
Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts, as they were known before Doug died in 2002, were part of my undergraduate experience. Their albums were a dorm staple in the mid-60's. We all knew the lyrics to their songs, almost a requirement to become a sophomore. By today's standards the lyrics would scarcely raise an eyebrow. But back then, they were dirty!
Yes, shocked readers, as an impressionable young man I listened to records with dirty words and suggestive lyrics. Have you heard of Moms Mabley or Rusty Warren? Bet you know Redd Foxx. Sophisticated recorded humor (Sahl, Bruce, and Nichols and May) was over our heads. Brother Dave Gardner and Shelley Berman were past us too, though we didn't know it. Anyway that was the spoken word; the Hot Nuts sang!
Gross 102, 1963
Formed in Chapel Hill in the mid '50's, Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts were legendary by the time I went away to school in fall 1964. They took their name from their signature song, Hot Nuts. Greatest hits include Bang Bang Lou Lou, Barnacle Bill, Two Old Maids, He's Got the Whole World by the BallsDing-a-Ling, Limericks, and the favorite, Baby Let Me Bang Your Box. They had their own label, Gross. Are you getting the picture? And there were rumors of performances where they wore nothing but see-through raincoats or fur-covered jock straps. No fraternity on the east coast was worth its greek letters unless they had hosted the Hot Nuts at least once. Students loved them. Think Animal House. Did I mention they were black?
These masters of the double entendre and the dirty limerick were not as well loved by school officials and up-holders of local community standards. White southern civic leaders, ministers, and law enforcement officials of 1950's and 60's were not all that pleased that their sons (and especially daughters) were being so entertained by black men. The city of Richmond, Virginia banned them outright. While turning a blind eye is a southern speciality, Doug Clark and his band frequently found themselves on the wrong side of that thin line. So it was the night I heard them.
It was 1965, Danville Virginia. The show was to be at the Rathskeller, a hotel basement beer and dance club frequented by college students. Dates were procured, plans were made. That night the place was packed, standing room only. The atmosphere was electric, the beer flowing. Sure we were mostly underage (legal age was 21) but remember that blind eye. Finally the band hit the stage for their usual first set, what we generally call today Beach Music. We danced. But it was the second set, the Hot Nuts Show, we were waiting for. We were not alone.
During opening lines "Nuts, Hot Nuts, You Get Um from the Peanut Man", what we had all been waiting for, commotion started in every direction. Blue uniformed Danville police appeared at every exit. A police officer in full regalia, light bouncing off brass and chrome, took the stage, the microphone, and declared the show over. He told us to go home. We did. Although I do not know what happened to the band, I suspect they packed up and were escorted to the city limits.
Given that this was during the middle of a most violent period during the civil rights movement and that Danville police had brutally suppressed demonstrations only two years earlier, we should not have been all that surprised. And if the city fathers thought that their sons and daughters would learn a lesson about community values and who was in charge I suspect they would be surprised at what we took away from their lesson.
It is 43 years later; we are in charge now. Last Friday evening Doug Clark's Hot Nuts were on their way to another gig. Students two generations removed from those days will drink beer, get a bit rowdy, and try to come up with their own words to some old tunes. No police are waiting for them. There is a scholarship at UNC-CH in Doug Clark's memory. That is what rushed through my head on I-440 Friday night and put a big smile on my face. Isn't life grand.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Lasik, One Year On

It has been just over a year since my Lasik surgery. This is my second report.

I had been wearing glasses for almost 50 years, an expensive annoyance I had learned to live with out of necessity. When I first learned of surgical procedures that corrected for myopia I was intrigued but had little interest in being an early adopter. Glasses corrected my vision just fine, assuming I could find them (most of the time) and the lenses were not scratched or dirty (some of the time). When the Lasik procedure was introduced in the 90's I started paying closer attention. A casual conversation last summer with a friend who recently had Lasik on both eyes prompted me to schedule a screening exam with his surgeon. I conducted my due diligence on the internet, researching the medical literature, the doctor, and the equipment he used. After the exam found me a good candidate, I scheduled the surgery, ASAP.
Everything went as explained and expected. The ophthalmologist and staff were very friendly and professional. The resulting short term discomfort was gone the next morning when I jumped out of bed to see what I could see. It was like Christmas and I had a new toy.
At the 24 hour followup I was seeing almost 20-20. In a week it was almost 20-15. As I was advised, I would need reading glasses and maybe glasses for computer work. Not a problem, I already was using both; I just needed new ones. And yes, I did have the predicted short-term side effects: dry eyes, halos and starbursts, occasional blurring and double vision. But these dissipated within a few weeks, mostly.
clock-ghostAs time passed I began to notice that the slight ghosting or double vision in my left eye was not improving. The quality of my vision seemed to fluctuate according to how pronounced the ghosting that eye was. As I am left eye dominant, an unusual situation for a right handed person, the effect was enhanced. According, sometimes I could see just fine, and then a few hours later things would become annoyingly blurry. Highway signs provided the best gauge. I kept waiting for time-the-healer to make things better. It hasn't.
I suspect one variable is moisture. Lasik surgery cuts nerves in the cornea that affects tear production. The rate patients heal varies, making the use of eye drops a longer term proposition for some. I must fall into that group. I don't heal as quickly as I once did. But that should be true for both eyes. Why is my left eye different?
I suspect that the large dormant aneurysm behind my left eye has something to do with that double vision. Unlike my right eye, the area surrounding my left eye was sore for weeks after the procedure. If that is the case there is no telling when or if things will get better. But, as often before, I could be wrong.
I don't think my doctor or his equipment did anything wrong. I had no surgical complications. The doctor has been very concerned about the issues I have been having and has scheduled frequent follow-ups. He wants to see good outcomes and happy patients; both are certainly in his best interest.
One does not have to google hard to find dissatisfied Lasik patients venting. Don't count me in that category just yet. Some others may well have had much worse experiences than I. Lasik is surgery after all. And while I am probably more sympathetic to their results than most, no surgery can be guaranteed and no patients are exactly the same. I gave my informed consent. I can and will live with the results.
The other day I was watching the flight of golf balls against a pine tree green background struck off the tee over 440 yards from where I was sitting. If my vision was always that good my Lasik experience would be an unqualified success. Maybe time-the-healer will make it so. As is, not bad.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Do Windows, and Doors

Porch Windows1Today it was cool, windy, and wet here, courtesy of an unnamed storm off the coast. But my back porch was warm, calm and dry. That is because yesterday I installed the sliding french door, thus finally enclosing the porch. Thanks to neighbor Ed who help me tote and lift at just the right times.

So the back porch is gone, transformed into the ...? If it were not on the north side of the house it would obviously be the sun room. We'll think of something. That is the old outside door leading to/from the porch leaning against the house. And Hokie cat surveying the mess. Porch Windows2

This project is among the things I have been amusing myself with over the last few weeks. It has gone close to planned, with opportunities to learn something new; that is, the process has been occasioned by the odd do-over. Making things up as I go passes for normal around here.

Now the weather has cooled and the site is enclosed the pace will quicken. Next comes the trim - inside and out - as well as siding covering the new knee wall. The old stairs will be replaced by a deck that will lead to a patio.

Even unfinished I can attest that the whatyamightcallit room is a great place to drink morning coffee and watch the sun come up.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

August, 2008

My, that was fast. If those were Dog Days - evoking an image of a languid summer of lying about avoiding exertion in the heat - this August seems to have passed too fast for me to notice, or blog about. So here are some of my high spots for the weeks since FloydFest.
The conversion of our 9 x 11 back porch to an all-season room has begun. After building a new insulated floor over the existing porch floor - which raised the height to that of the rest of the house - and after MUCH deliberation, consultation and measuring, I ordered seven windows and a new sliding door. PorchFlooring was decided upon, ordered, and awaits installation. Next I removed the old screens/framing and reframed for the windows. As you can see, the new kneewall now advertises LOWE'S, courtesy of the house wrap. Subtle, aren't they. The weather was cooperative with high temperatures most days in the low 90's. The windows will arrive this week and will be set ASAP. After trimming out, siding, and adding a few flourishes the room should be secure from the weather and Phase II can begin, the new deck.
I had a good check up at my dentist; Look Ma, No Cavities. (I wonder how long it will take before people forget where that phrase can from.) I also had a Lasik followup; no real change, some days I can spot the eagles before they see me, other days not so good.
Got a haircut, needed it.
On Sunday the 17th my wife and I joined the Carolina Alumni Chapter of the Semester-at-Sea program for a Bon Voyage/Welcome Home outing at the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte. WhitewaterIt is a great place to hike, learn whitewater and other outdoor skills, or just watch. The US Olympic whitewater team trains there. We took a guided rafting trip - which at one time or another found all of us ejected into the rapids from the raft - had dinner, and chatted about places seen, things done, and people met on our voyages. Thanks to Donna (rear, blue helmet) for making it possible.
The next day was the opening round of the Men's US Amateur Championship at Pinehurst. Ben, an old friend of my daughter, and I attended the first day of medal play. Then on Thursday my sister, brother in law, and I watched the Round of 16 match play. It was wonderful to walk one of the world's great golf courses with friends and family and watch high quality competition without a huge crowd. Friday Francis and I teed it up here. I really need to practice.
In the middle of this my wife's niece, Virginia, came to town for a medical procedure that involved pulsed radiowaves, a thin wire inserted into her skull, and cranial nerves. (OK, so I don't know the proper name of the procedure.) The goal was to reduce her debilitating headaches and hopefully ween her off the mega doses of narcotics her previous pain management doctors put her on. Reports so far are positive.
Shortly thereafter Virginia's sister LeAnna had a baby boy. Both doing fine. No, neither of these events directly involved me; but they were part of my August.
I had some landscaping done in the front yard and the heating/cooling system inspected. No problems.
It is Fantasy Football time. I participated in two internet drafts last month and am planning to kick serious butt this year. I say this every year.
I drove to Virginia twice in August to further prepare mother's house for sale. We are about 95% finished now, many of the rooms clean and empty. Although it will be very hard to turn the keys over to Joe and Billie, closure will be a relief for all of us. We took our time and did it right. Now if I can just find proper places around here for all the stuff I have brought back...
There were the Olympic games which we were able to watch only because the Dish Network provided us with a local NBC station at the last possible moment, on the day of the opening ceremonies. China did a good job as host, to the relief and surprise of many and consternation to a few. The opening ceremony was jaw dropping. I kept hitting the replay button on the DVR and asking, "How did they do that?" China has come a long, long way since I peered across their border in early 1968 from Hong Kong and into their Cultural Revolution. Yes, it was a coming out party of sorts for them. China's rise on the world stage now can only be compared to that of the US in the first half of the 20th century. We had better learn to get along with them. Now if they would just let Tibet be Tibet...
I will admit to a soft place in my heart for the Olympics even though I must look past the big money and nationalism. OlympicAt the center there are real people being the best they can be at something, generally not a bad example for us all. The cartoon provides an example and a segue.
A routine medical exam early last month led to the suspicion that all was not well with my prostate. My PSA was also heading in the wrong direction. So a biopsy was ordered. That was not a pleasant experience (although I have been through worse). Neither was waiting eight days for the results. No, cancer cells were not found. But some of the samples showed PIN cells of a high enough quality to warrant a second biopsy. Cancerous cells may be there, just missed. Or not. We will know more in a couple of months. Meanwhile I am conducting due diligence and thinking about how great it is to be here. August may have been a lucky month for me.
I am sharing this because about 28,000 men will die in this country this year because of prostate cancer, our second leading cancer killer. A lack of early symptoms is the main problem. It is too often discovered late, after cancer has spread. And most men have about as much chance locating their prostate as Uruguay. Down there somewhere. The numbers are similar as with women and breast cancer, but few seem to know that. Early detection is the key for both. Screening is simple, though a bit intrusive. So guys, bend over and get that thing checked. Gals, see to it the guys in your life take care of their business.
For more info, try here, the NIH, or the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
On a more positive note I found in one of those awful magazine special advertising sections (Doctor's Orders, Fortune, September 2008)
"In 2007 scientists in Seattle reported that men who drink four to seven glasses of red wine per week are half as likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer as nondrinkers."
I started my own study immediately. I wonder if eight to fourteen can drop the percentage to one quarter:)
Finally (even though it is now September) the eyewall of TS Hanna passed about 35 miles east of here early yesterday morning with little effect other than almost 6 inches of rain. We were fortunate. I remember Hugo. For that matter I remember Hazel. Both passed as close to me as Hanna. H must like me.

Monday, July 28, 2008

FloydFest 7 - A Family Affair

FloydFest Pan
Modestly sunburned, a bit poison ivied, aching in all the usual places - but all the better for the experience - we are back from the mountains of Virginia, our annual visit to FloydFest. The theme was A Family Affair; and so it was with my daughter joining members of my wife's family at our campsite. This was her first visit to the festival. It was a special treat to see the week-end through her eyes. Above is her panorama of the site taken from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Floydfest 7 will be remembered as the year with no rain, only partly cloudy skies, and pleasantly warm temperatures, fleeting conditions for these mountains at this time of year. Sunday night after most campers had left I even saw the Milky Way on my way to port at 3 AM.

I did not post about FloydFest 6 last year, more a reflection of blogging fatigue than the week-end. Last year's line up included Sam Bush, the North Mississippi Allstars, Donna the Buffalo, and closed with our house band, Railroad Earth. The musical surprise last year for me was The Waybacks. They were just totally awesome, to repeat a phrase.

Again this year it was performers I knew little - if anything - about, who made the musical weekend for me.

We were eating dinner early Friday evening when four men took the stage next to us dressed in black three-piece suits; they looked like young undertakers. Surrounding one microphone they went from one old-time traditional Appalachian song to another, just nailing them. These guys were good. It was only between songs when it slowly dawned on me that something was different. That...that European accent....they were Swedish! Pontus Juth, Peter Frovik, Ralf Fredblad, and Kristian Herner call themselves the Rockridge Brothers. Here is them on YouTube. Who knew?

Two weekends ago on my way to Charlotte I listened to that Saturday morning staple, NPR's Weekend-Edition. As they often do to wrap up the show, they interviewed a musical guest who played a few songs. This time it was Amos Lee, someone I did not know. I enjoyed the interview, listened to a couple songs, thought him pretty good, and moved on. This Saturday I was sitting on stage with him. Folks, he is the real deal. I have not heard any of his albums, but live he had my full attention for entire set. He is so good it is scary. I will see him again. Here is a link to the NPR interview.

Another high point was hearing Railroad Earth again. As I have been to about twenty shows now, the newness has worn off. It has been replaced by that warm feeling of seeing old friends and being transported out of the moment to a familiar, wonderful place. They have a new album, Amen Corner, which captures them relaxed, fresh with new songs. I had a chance to talk with Todd Shaeffer for a few minutes in the parking lot. I reminded him that he had sent me 20 CDs a year and a half ago after he had played solo at my daughter's wedding. Like a true musician (and gentleman) he had not bothered to enclose an invoice. So we settled up. Then that evening RRE closed the main stage in great style.

The three stories above were not the half of it. We heard four kids from Wise, Virginia, most just out of high school, who call themselves the Midnight Ramblers. They were just perfect, dressed and pressed, music as fresh and pure and timeless as spring in Wise County. San Francisco's New Monsoon rocked the mainstage. Kat Mills made sitting around the Pink Floyd Garden Stage just the place to be. The everybodyfields put on a wonderful performance at the Hill Hollar Stage. Rusted Root disappointed no one Saturday night. What a wonderful version of Cinnamon Girl. David Grisman's Dawg Music brought a smile and, for some, memories of Jerry. And words fail to describe the Avett Brothers, just fail. What energy, what honest music. What a way to end the festival!

anita b&wThe Best Camper Award this year goes to Anita. This was her sixth straight Floydfest and the driving force - literally up highway 8 - for keeping our family focused towards this annual event. Like the festival itself, each year she handles with grace whatever circumstances present themselves. She's nice, damn it!

A close runner-up for best camper is Virginia, who's health problems made attending this year problematical. Determination carried the day. She's nice too.

(Many) more photos, like the ones above, will shortly be posted on my daughter's flickr site.

After one drives away only does it dawn that Floydfest is not really about the music; in the end it is the people one remembers: the extended family of friends who put the week-end together, the vendors, the campers, the day-trippers, and the performers from all over the world and our backyard who share their art with us. I was just on the phone with my sister. I heard myself say that Floydfest is like a big family reunion where there are lots of relatives you just haven't met yet. That works for me, a Family Affair.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008



The next generation has arrived. This is William John Terminella, Wil, the son of Kevin and Heather, Kevin being my sister's eldest.
This photo was taken at 4 months. Look closely. Examine the expression on Wil's face. I was probably 30 by the time I learned how to arch my eyebrows like that.
That kid on E*Trade had better be looking over his shoulder.
Kevin and Heather, lotsa luck keeping up with this one.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Space...the Final Frontier

AtticWhen we first saw our current house we thought it had plenty of space: a great room w/17 ft ceiling, a huge master bedroom w/bath, two walk-in closets, a nice sized kitchen with attached - though small - dining area, and an attached two car garage and shop area. Add the two bedrooms, a bath, and office upstairs and how cluttered could it get?

We quickly found out.

So last year I converted the unused space over the garage for storage use. That quickly filled. I covered the walls of the garage with shelves. Not a lineal foot now empty.

So last week I began converting the last unused space under roof for additional storage, not a pleasant job in July. Access is by crawling through a two foot by two foot opening behind the guest bedroom door that is secured by a screwed in panel. A proper door is next. Above is what it looks like today, floored and lit, ~ 180 square feet more storage.

In the cool of the morning tomorrow it will begin to fill with boxes. Gee. How cluttered can it get?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Pop's Popcorn Popper

Buck & Popcorn PopperWhile cleaning up and cleaning out my family home - preparing for the eventual sale - we noticed our old popcorn popper recessed on a shelf in a closet. I remember mother letting me use it to make popcorn when I was "old enough." It was quite basic; it was plugged in or not, so inattention led to the scorched kernels I often served. But since the innovation of microwaveable popcorn memories of its use have faded into ancient history.

Sometime later we discovered this image among the family photos. It shows my father holding that popcorn maker with what was, unusual for him, a bemused smile on his face and a slightly askew bow tie. Better, someone had written on the back:
Dec. 1953 at American Legion Hall
Christmas Banquet
Contest Winners
Left to Right
E.C. Edwards, Jr.
Ellis Midkiff
Maynard Gillespie
This was obviously taken at the Christmas banquet of the Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, where my father (and the other two gentlemen) worked. Since only two are holding something and are in the foreground - Mr. Midkiff seems to have an alarm clock - I expect Mr. Gillespie is just giving the winners a hard time. Thus we learned how the popper made it into our home. We had no idea.

PopperMy sister thought it only proper that I receive custody of both the popper and the photo. And I thought it only proper to see if it still worked. It does.

Just for the record, it was manufactured by the Dominion Electric Corporation, Mansfield, Ohio, U.S.A. - Model 1702, 400 watts. Although I cannot find it on our popper, it seems to have been introduced in 1948 as the Popper Chef. Ours would be at least 55 years old. Dominion seems to be no longer in business; a Google search yielded little other than Mansfield was once known for its manufacturing, especially stoves - Westinghouse and Tappan among them.

I'm glad Pop didn't win the alarm clock.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Amazon

One RiverAs things stand now my wife and I will be spending this Christmas and New Year's aboard the mv Explorer on a 21-day cruise to Manaus, Brazil. While only a third of the voyage will be on the Amazon itself, that is the third that sold me on the trip. I have no interest in island-hopping on one of those god-awful "fun cruise" ships (movement with not actually going anywhere). But this chance to see the Amazon is different.

The mv Explorer is the latest ship used by the Semester-at-Sea program. Forty-one years ago I spent a semester aboard the s.s. Ryndam as a student of Chapman College's World Campus Afloat, as the Semester-at-Sea was called in those days. While the program has changed sponsorship several times since then - it is now at The University of Virginia - the experience remains remarkably the same, as I found attending an alumni meeting in Charlotte last week. That voyage remains the most influential single experience of my life.

As we will have a longer time to prepare for the trip than the time we are actually onboard, I am trying to get the most from it by studying ahead of time. I have the DVR programmed to record anything with the words Amazon or Brazil in the title. (Ever watch the Brazil Farm Report on RFD-TV? Riveting.) I have been burning bandwidth with Goggle Earth. I am also reading.

Wade Davis' One River was a mistake, sloppy research on my part. I ordered it thinking it was focused on exploration of the Amazon River. It turned out to be something else entirely, a magical and marvelous book I could barely put down. Read it for Tim Plowman. Read it for Richard Evans Schultes. Read it for Richard Spruce. Read it for Rubber and WW2. Read it for the coca. Read it for the first Americans. Hell, just read it.

It seems like that Semester-at-Sea magic never really went away. Real travel is like that. Go around a corner or turn a page; you never really know what you will see.

I haven't left yet and I want to go back.

Friday, June 13, 2008


AbeliaTwo large abelia plants have grown near the entrance of my family home as far back as I can remember. Photos show them already mature when my parents bought the house in 1949.

Since we now have the house under contract and are in the process of clearing it out and cleaning up, I wanted to take with me a remembrance or two of our yard. Some of dad's Zoysia grass is already plugged into my backyard. These rootings are from one of the abelias. Friendly folks at a local nursery got them started for me and they seem to be doing just fine. In a couple of years they will be ready to transplant. I feel better every time I look at them.

From Wikipedia:
Abelia is a genus of about 15-30 species and many hybrids in the honeysuckle family Caprifoliaceae, in the part of that family split off by some authors in the segregate family Linnaeaceae. The Angiosperm Phylogeny Group considers Linnaeaceae to encompass such genera as Linnaea, Abelia, Dipelta, Kolkwitzia, and Zabelia.

Abelias are shrubs from 1-6 m tall, native to eastern Asia (Japan west to the Himalaya) and southern North America (Mexico); the species from warm climates are evergreen, and colder climate species deciduous. The leaves are opposite or in whorls of three, ovate, glossy, dark green, 1.5-8 cm long, turning purplish-bronze to red in autumn in the deciduous species. The flowers appear in the upper leaf axils and stem ends, 1-8 together in a short cyme; they are pendulous, white to pink, bell-shaped with a five-lobed corolla, 1-5 cm long, and usually scented. Flowering continues over a long and continuous late spring to fall period.
Abelias are a wonderful plant. They tolerate a variety of soils and climates, stay green year round, don't shed leaves in the fall (around here), have pleasant small flowers with a mild fragrance, and provide habitat for the birds and the bees. They come in many varieties, including the smallish Little Richard (Good Golly Miss Molly!!!) I am already using as foundation plants. These are probably an older variety of grandiflora (Abelia Edward Goucher?). But as usual, I could be wrong.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hokie, Hokie, Sittin' in a Tree

HokieTree"Superior Tree"

"Good Morning. My name is Bibb Edwards and I have a problem with a tree."


"And a cat."

"We do that. Where do you live?"

Thus began the rescue of our cat Hokie who had been missing for three days. Our neighbor rang our doorbell this morning to say that a cat matching Hokie's description was in a tree in the woods behind a house near the practice putting green, about a half mile from our house. My wife, who was headed out the door to work, drove by, confirmed the cat was our Hokie, and called me to commence rescue operations.

Once I saw Hokie and the tree I knew it was not going to be easy. He was higher up than any conventional ladder could reach, probably 40 feet. The couple living closest to the constantly meowing cat had tried for days to get him to come down on its own, with no success. They had called both the local animal control officers and the fire department. No help. Hokie was cradled, as you see above, where three branches spread from the trunk. There was no place as secure within reach. And no easy way up or down.

After it occurred to me that I had a tree problem as well as a cat problem I went home to consult the Yellow Pages. With the largest ad on the TREES page announcing 24 hour emergency service, I called Superior. After the exchange above the gentleman took my number and said someone would call me back in a few minutes. Unlike most of my experiences with local contractors, within 20 minutes Joe called me. Within an hour he was climbing up the tree after Hokie.JoeSuperior

Hokie was having none of an easy rescue. Throughly freaked by this time, Hokie fled out on a limb. Joe climbed to the top of the tree, secured a line to his harness, and - thus supported - made his way along the branch toward Hokie. When he was almost in reach, Hokie jumped to the top of a smaller adjacent tree and began a semi-controlled descent. About fifteen feet from the ground the cat and the tree separated. Yes, cats do land on their feet. At least this one did, flattening out like a flying squirrel along the way. In this case the feet kept moving and Hokie disappeared at a very high rate of speed through the underbrush.

I thanked and paid Joe and as we left we spotted Hokie headed in the direction of our house. I stopped but Hokie was not having anything to do with me either. So I went home, reported the morning events to my wife, and waited for the cat to appear on the porch. He did, about 20 minutes later. There he tried to make up for lost dinner times, eventually wandering back into the house and up on my lap.

Thanks to the unbelievably fast, friendly and competent folks at Superior Tree and Hauling. Even though I was lucky they had a crew nearby on another job, Joe went above and beyond - so to speak - and was very nice about it as well. He said he had two cats at home.

And Hokie, I am docking your allowance for about 35 years. Good to see you back.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Way We Were

If you have an email address, and are of a certain generation, you probably have received at least one. Always forwarded, usually in bulk by a friend about the same age, these emails list things we should remember more or less fondly from our childhood that speak of simpler yet better times that these-young-folks-today will never "get."

Sometimes the theme screams WE SURVIVED, as in growing up not having child-proof medicine bottles, motor vehicle seat belts, or product safety warning labels on every damn thing. We remember when tobacco was not bad for you (also) and when do-gooders where not always trying to protect us from ourselves. We were tough, ran with scissors, snacked on lead-based paint, and turned out OK, not like these over-protected wimps today.

Others are lists of simple low-tech toys and amusements that brought us joy, usually compared favorably with expensive modern electronic gismos that young folks today might as well implant. "We didn't text message, we passed notes!" WE HAD FUN ANYWAY, PROBABLY MORE! these lists assert.

A third type of list references artifacts from our childhood which are only found today in antique stores and attics: 45 rpm records, roller skate keys, milk bottles, black & white TVs, rotary dial phones, and on and on and on. These lists evoke both nostalgia and I KNOW WHAT THEY ARE AND HOW THEY WORK AND YOU DON'T BECAUSE I WAS THERE AND YOU WEREN'T, YOU UNFORTUNATE DUMB ASS.

A variant are the growing up/getting older lists. These poke fun at things we used to do, as in 25 SIGNS THAT YOU HAVE GROWN UP
1. Your houseplants are alive, and you can't smoke any of them.
2. Having sex in a twin bed is out of the question.
3. You keep more food than beer in the fridge.
4. 6:00 AM is when you get up, not when you go to bed.
5. You hear your favorite song in an elevator.
6. You watch the Weather Channel.
7. Your friends marry and divorce instead of "hook up" and "break up."
8. You go from 130 days of vacation time to 14.
9. Jeans and a sweater no longer qualify "dressed up."
10. You're the one calling the police because those %&@# kids next door won't turn down the stereo.
11. Older relatives feel comfortable telling sex jokes around you.
12. You don't know what time Taco Bell closes anymore.
13. Your car insurance goes down and your car payments go up.
14. You feed your dog Science Diet instead of McDonald's leftovers.
15. Sleeping on the couch makes your back hurt.
16. You take naps.
17. Dinner and a movie is the whole date instead of the beginning of one.
18. Eating a basket of chicken wings at 3 AM would severely upset, rather than settle, your stomach.
19. You go to the drug store for ibuprofen and antacid, not condoms and pregnancy tests.
20. A $4.00 bottle of wine is no longer "pretty good shit."
21. You actually eat breakfast food at breakfast time.
22. "I just can't drink the way I used to" replaces "I'm never going to drink that much again."
23. 90% of the time you spend in front of a computer is for real work.
24. You drink at home to save money before going to a bar.
25. When you find out your friend is pregnant you congratulate them instead of asking "Oh shit, what the hell happened?"

(thanks Wyc) or the indignities we are beginning to face as a result of aging. Many of these have to do with creaking joints, the digestive system, the effects of gravity, hair, soft things getting hard and hard things getting soft, hearing, CRS, and sex. In deference to my more sensitive readers - mainly my daughter - I will skip the graphic details. The curious might try Suddenly, a site I found doing research for this post and will probably not visit again, ever. GETTING OLDER IS NOT FOR SISSIES! WIPE THAT SMIRK OFF YOUR FACE - YOUR TURN IS COMING:):):)

Finally, at the bottom of many of these lists is a "message." These are the least amusing parts as they frequently promote a right-wing agenda that imagines a past better than it really was for most of us and ignores anything resembling progress over the past 50 years - especially for other than well-to-do white men who have their metal drivers, Viagra, and tax breaks. Usually blame is directed toward someone or some thing other than themselves (usually our politicians or governments) for todays ills. Pick your ill. IF WE HAD MORE PATRIOTIC, GOD-FEARING, RED-BLOODED AMERICANS - REAL MEN AND REAL WOMEN LIKE ME AND MY FRIENDS - ACTING LIKE GOD AND I KNOW THEY SHOULD, WE WOULDN'T BE IN SUCH A MESS TODAY. ANYBODY SEEN MY FLAG LAPEL PIN? While some of the ideas contained therein may be worthy of discussion, they sure do ruin the mood.

You just knew this post was heading somewhere, didn't you?

Just in case any of you thought these lists were unique to the internet and our generation's most perfect youth, I present to you a document I found going through my late mother's effects. I suspect it was given to her at one of her high school reunions.1937
This from a generation that grew up during the Great Depression and as young adults bore the brunt of WWII. It seems our generation is not the first to seek comfort in a selective reading of the past. Damn. One of my mother's generation, Simone Signoret (1921-1985), was right, "La nostalgie n'est plus ce qu'elle etait."

May I humbly suggest to my daughter's generation it is never too early to start gathering up material for your own lists. I can't wait.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Open for Business

BirdhouseMy late mother and step-father enjoyed feeding, housing and watching birds. This winter I liberated a Purple Martin condo from their backyard that Harper erected. Housing up to 12 nests at a time and made of aluminum, it sits on a steel pole and can be lowered for maintenance by a rope and pulley.

It joins the two Bluebird houses I put up last year, our Hokie House, and a Hummingbird feeder outside the back porch that provided no end of amusement for our cats.

Bat HouseIn addition, yesterday, finally, I was able to erect our new Bat House. I cut down a nearby recently deceased tree to provide the necessary elevation. It proved more heavy than expected. But I eventually secured it where I hope it will attract a small colony. By providing additional habitat, we may be able to add to our local community of bats which can be seen at dusk reducing the quantity of neighborhood mosquitoes - something, as it turns out, Purple Martins do not.

I think mother and Harper would approve.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Mordi's Murals

Dibner:CATTWe took the opportunity of our theater trip to the borough of Brooklyn to visit their Polytechnic University, just a few blocks from BAM. Hanging in the lobby of their Dibner/CATT building - shown to the right - on permanent display are five murals by Mordi Gassner (1899-1995), perhaps the most amazing person I have ever met. The 6 by 9 foot murals - dating from the late 1920's/early 1930's - are his interpretation of the sciences of physics, geology, astronomy, chemistry and biology.

Mordi at Drakes BranchThe last time I saw the murals were in his home, a converted church near Drakes Branch, Virginia. I had been introduced to Mordi and his wife Marion by my then wife Paula. While one was immediately struck by the surrounding artwork and his stories of designing sets on films in the early days of Hollywood - and later Broadway and 1950's television, painting in Florence as a two-time Guggenheim Fellow, decorating post offices with murals for the WPA,Mordi's Studio and making ends meet as a commercial artist, it became evident that he was more than an artist. He was a true renaissance man in the spirit of the age that inspired his humanism. Mostly self-educated, he wielded the widest intellectual brush imaginable but remained the most humane human I have ever known, even after some of his contemporaries appropriated the sciences he loved in the service of evil.

I sat for hours in awe of his ability to take almost any topic of conversation to places I could barely follow. Once, in an attempt to establish some credibility with him I mentioned that his remarks sometimes reminded me of one of my favorite authors, Lewis Mumford. (I had recently read but surely did not entirely grasp Technics and Civilization (1934) and The Myth of the Machine: technics and human civilization (1967)) He replied, "Ah, Lewis. We lived near each other in Brooklyn and often took walks together." I about dissolved. He KNEW Lewis Munford! Of, course. I should have known; they had much in common.

I will always treasure the time I spent with him and his wife Marion - a fascinating person in her own right - and hope I absorbed at least something from our many conversations. Even if I did not, I expect my daughter's interest in photography springs at least in part from her experiences wandering around his studio, soaking it all in - as small children well do.

The New Yorker ran a short piece about the murals when they were donated to Brooklyn Polytechnic.

And here are thumbnails of the murals.



StewartThis past week was spring break at my wife's college. We used the opportunity to take a road trip to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) which was presenting Macbeth, featuring Patrick Stewart in the title role, at their Harvey Theater. Seldom has three hours of my time passed so quickly; how wonderful is first-rate theater, how amazing is our Shakespeare.

It took only a few moments for me to forget Jean-Luc Picard. A dark and bloody story of evil was unfolding before me with Stewart transforming the commanding presence he displayed as the Captain of the Enterprise into that of a power-hungry Stalinesque murderer. As involving as was Stewart's stage presence - I could seldom move my eyes away from him - the production was his equal. And if some of his fellow cast members looked familiar, they should have. Many were veterans of British productions we had seen on TV - Midsomer Murders, Poirot, Miss Marple, and the like. Did I mention it was bloody? Tastefully bloody, but deeply crimson bloody. I liked it.

The production is now playing its third venue since opening in England last year. It will move to Broadway for short eight-week run at the end of this month. Critics have generally been quite taken by the production and by Stewart's performance. For example try the London Times, The Guardian, The New York Times, or The New Yorker. We saw a production that may be remembered for years.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Math Award

Math Award001

My daughter has recently taken to advising almost everyone within earshot that she can't do math. Having known her for some time now I wish to set the record straight. She can do math. At least 8th grade math, which will generally get one through life fine and dandy. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Almost all math is just a variation on those operations. (Did you notice I just snuck in a math term?)

Anyway, I am having none of it. Here is a math award she won in the 8th grade to illustrate my point. She may not be great in math; she may not like math. But she can do math. Don't listen to her. She ought to be able to figure out things if she cares too. There!

Maybe I am jealous. I never got a math award. Ever. I'm not good at math.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


SnowThis morning we had a nice dusting of snow, not a frequent event around here. By the time this picture was taken it was raining; by noon it was mostly gone. It was a good day to spend inside, which I did.