Sunday, December 23, 2018

Sugar cakes

A couple years into our marriage, after I realized that Kim was something of a magician in the kitchen, I asked her if she'd mind making Moravian sugar cakes over the Christmas holidays.

The request was a simple one, prologued, as it was, with my big, sorrowful brown eyes, and a promise of my annoying unending sadness if my plea went unfulfilled.

Shame on me. Heh, heh, heh.

After all, my Nana Kessler made sugar cakes, and her daughter – my mother – also made them.

Somewhere along the way, Kim got hold of a sugar cake recipe from a real Moravian. She and her mother would set aside a Friday night in December and begin the labor-intensive process of making sugar cakes. They usually ended up making about six or eight of them, and we'd even hand some of them out (despite my completely legitimate protests) as Christmas gifts.

I point out the labor intensive part because it usually took Kim and her mom most of the evening to make them. They used the old Moravian recipe that required potatoes and yeast, which meant at some point you had to wait for the dough to rise before you could continue the baking process. It's exhausting work that requires a serious commitment of time.

One of Kim's sugar cakes is ready to go. Mmmm. Smells good..
 I was usually covering basketball games for The Dispatch on Friday nights in December, but when I came home – usually sometime after midnight – Kim would be there, sugar cakes in hand, a touch of flour on her face, smelling curiously like a bakery.

But, man, we had honest-to-goodness sugar cakes for the holidays.

Over the course of time, however, Kim's mom passed away and I no longer needed my sugar cake nostalgia fix. Kim had little interest in making sugar cakes anymore and I couldn't blame her. Especially since you can walk into almost any grocery store in town and buy sugar cakes from Dewey's Bakery.

Years slipped by. Some Christmases we just didn't bother to have sugar cakes, even though it was something of a family tradition to have some with your morning coffee. And that was OK.

Then, a month or so ago, we were at the Marketplace Mall in Winston-Salem. We were walking around aimlessly killing time until we strolled into the Winkler Bakery outlet store. The Winkler Bakery, of course, is the 200-plus-year-old establishment in nearby Old Salem that still makes the sugar cookies, the Love Feast buns and, yep, sugar cakes for both the tourists and all of us nostalgia-starved Moravians.

The outlet store (which is actually a working bakery that mass produces its product for Old Salem) had packages of sugar cake mix for sale.

"Do you want me to make sugar cakes this year?" asked Kim, holding a package of mix in her hand and reading the instructions.

"Nah," I said both thoughtfully and maturely. "I know how hard it is to make them. You don't have to do that."

"I don't mind," said Kim. So we bought a package.

Yesterday, while I was watching Army beat up Houston in a college football bowl game, Kim was working in the kitchen when a familiar scent began to fill the house.

"It smells like a bakery in here," I said, walking into the kitchen.

"Go outside, take a breath of fresh air, and then come back in," said Kim. "Cleanse your nose."

Well, that was something I'd never done before. But I did as she said. When I came back in, the delicious aroma of cinnamon, brown sugar and butter, warmed to about 350 degrees, gently co-mingled into my nostrils.

I think tears welled up in my big, brown eyes.

Kim was able to make four cakes out of the package of mix. We're giving three away as gifts, but I'm selfishly keeping the cake with the deepest reservoir of brown sugar for myself. I guess I won't be keeping it long, though.

"I know how hard it is for you to make this, Kim," I said, my head virtually swimming in the sinfully rich smells from the oven. "You must be tired, and I'll never ask you to make sugar cake again. I've had more than my share over the years."

A knowing nanosecond flew by.

"Yes, you will," she said, smiling. "You'll ask me every year."

Indeed, I will.

Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas to all...

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Holy smokes

I'd just about forgotten about Monday's demolition of the smokestack at Lexington Home Brands Plant No. 1. Clearly, watching a smokestack come down wasn't high on my priority list.

But about mid-afternoon, after running a series of errands, my neurons and synapses started firing and I remembered, "Hey, today's the day." So I drove over to see what I could see.

I first went to the Piedmont Funeral Home parking lot, but that only put me in a position to look straight into the sun. So I drove to the Talbert Boulevard side of the plant, near the railroad tunnel, and got a much better view without damaging my retinas.

History comes down in pieces. (Photo by Adam Gregory)
 Half of the stack was already down, including the iconic white lettering of "Dixie" that anointed the structure.

About two dozen spectators were on hand when I arrived, spread here and there, which kind of surprised me given the emotional outcry about the demolition that you can find on social media. I'm guessing that there was a floating party of sorts, with handfuls of spectators coming and going (like me) most of the day.

But I thought there'd be more people on hand to watch.

I understand the emotional attachment behind the demolition, especially from people who worked at the plant most of their lives. The furniture industry was the beating heart of Lexington for more than 100 years, and the smokestack of Plant No. 1 dominated the city's skyline for nearly that long.

But a devastating fire a year ago brought down several of the plant's buildings, and no doubt considerably weakened the mortar of the cherished smokestack, which actually sits on Norfolk-Southern Railroad right-of-way. Feasibility studies showed it would cost upwards of $4 million to somehow save or move the smokestack.

No philanthropists stepped up to throw money at it.

Times change, and they usually change with circumstances. And history is a fickle thing, meaning different things to different people. Do we miss the old Lexington High School building that once sat where the current post office is located? How about Robbins School? Where's the Donut Dinette? What about Milton Hall, near where Parkdale Mills is located? Anyone miss it? What about Swing Dairy? Why is there outcry over the demolition of a smokestack, but measured resistance to historic districts within the city limits?

My wife, a lifelong native of Lexington, already misses the smokestack. A friend of mine, who also grew up in Lexington, wasn't bothered so much by the demolition of the smokestack, but he sure does miss the factory whistle that could be heard across town ending the work shift. The dismissal whistle, I guess.

It's good to pay respect to the past. It helps describe who we were, who we are, and who we can be.

But we can't save everything. Except, maybe, in our hearts.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

North star

Whenever I want one of the teams I'm pulling for to win, I use a device that's probably about 50 percent effective.

It's called force of will.

I used it both in 1980 and in 2008 to help the Phillies win the World Series. I used it last year to help the Eagles win the Super Bowl. I used it again last year (it was a busy year in Philadelphia) to help Villanova win the NCAA men's basketball championship.

But my force of will – which when pulling for a sports team is something that probably more resembles me straining with my fists clenched and my eyes popping – doesn't always work.

It didn't work when I was on press row covering the West Davidson boys' bid for a basketball title in 1984; it didn't work when the Lexington American Legion baseball team tried to win a state title in Cherryville about a decade ago.

Like I said, my force of will is a 50-50 proposition. When it works, I'm a genius. When it doesn't, I'm a fool who might as well rely on rolling dice and rubbing chicken bones.

I tried using force of will to help North Davidson win a 2-AA state football championship against legendary football factory Shelby yesterday. But when Shelby intercepted a pass in the red zone against the driving Knights and returned it 90-plus yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead in the first period, everything changed.

Before I could blink my eyes, the Knights were down three touchdowns and forced to play catch-up the rest of the way. Against a formidable team like Shelby, you don't want to be playing catch-up.

North eventually lost 42-21. I felt deflated. My force of will had failed.

The game was aired on WMYV-TV, which is how I viewed the game, and I have to say, it was a very professional broadcast. There was slo-mo instant replay, solid commentary, and intriguing close-ups. That's pretty impressive television coverage for high school football.

When I cover North for The Dispatch, I usually sit in the elevated press box behind the Knights, so I don't get to see coach Brian Flynn working his team other than his striding up and down the sideline with his clipboard tucked into his pants.

But on television, there were some wonderful shots of him sending out signals to his team.

There was one where he brought gripping hands to his eyes, as if he were using binoculars. I don't know what that means – maybe he was calling for a pass and binoculars would help him see further downfield.

Then there was one that looked like he was blowing kisses. Or maybe blowing dust off his hands. I don't know what that means.

There was a kind of "hang five" signal with both hands, although there wasn't a Hawaiian shirt or surfboard in sight. I don't know what that means.

And then, later in the game, I saw him jumping up and down waving his arms, which is usually universal for "look at me," but in this case, I don't know what it means. Maybe he was exhorting his force of will.

I like Brian. I remember when he played quarterback at Central Davidson years ago. He's a personable young man and a clever, innovative football coach who knows how to use the talented players he has on the field. North is lucky to have him. I have a feeling there's going to be plenty more postseasons for the Knights in the future.

Sunday, December 9, 2018


Well, here we are. It's 6:30 Sunday morning and already we have three or four inches of overnight snow on the ground.

And more is coming.

I guess the weather forecasters were right. While the predictions for the snowfall amount were all over the place – anywhere from one to four inches for those located south of I-40 to eight to 12 inches for the Piedmont – I wasn't sure what to expect.

The wind is whipping snow all over the place...
 It was all about the anticipation, a word (and impatient expectation) which makes me think about Carly Simon's great song about ketchup. The early forecasts rolled in about a week ago. Since then, it's been all about the waiting... waiting... waiting.

And now it's here.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. I mean, I spent my childhood winters in snow, frolicking in the stuff in years spent in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Connecticut, all before I was old enough to drive a car.

Back then, I thought it was great.

A part of me really enjoys it and I actually do appreciate the gentle fall of flakes as it shrouds everything in pure white. It salves the soul.

But I'm not a kid anymore. I dislike driving in the stuff. I don't want to walk in it. I've long ago given up building snowmen or sliding down soft slopes on a sled. I don't want to be left stir crazy in my house because everything is closed and there's nowhere to go.

And this morning, to make things a little different, the wind is blowing. Flakes sometimes are falling in a diagonal direction. Hmm. And Fido needs to go out. Enjoy.

I suppose this will likely be our version of a White Christmas, unless we actually do get snow on Christmas Eve. Yeah, we still have more than two weeks to go for that to happen, but we are in Christmas mode, and the decorations on the houses somehow make the season seem more, umm, more... seasonal.

I guess I should just sit back and enjoy it.

But, man, I just got done raking leaves. And now I have to shovel snow? Sheesh.

Sunday, December 2, 2018


Normally, I don't get too excited when news breaks across my television screen about a 7.0 earthquake somewhere on the planet.

I guess that's because it seems most of those high intensity earthquakes are in Italy, or Ecuador, or Japan. Places like that.

Except this time, the Big One that broke late Friday night was in Anchorage, Alaska.

Where my brother Dave lives.

Seven point oh.

That got my attention.

As soon as I collected my thoughts, I tried reaching him on my cell phone using the only number I have for him. That didn't work, because, as it turned out, Anchorage had lost its power and there was no cell phone service. I got a recorded message to try my call again at a later time.

Hmmm. Iconic Alaska.
 I couldn't wait. So I private messaged him on Facebook. Yeah, I know. No power. But at least the message was there for him.

Early the next morning, I saw that he had marked himself as "Safe" on Facebook, proving that Facebook actually is good for some things. I don't know how he had access to Facebook, or what device he was using to relay his message, but I was grateful for the update. It corroborated what I'd been hearing on the news that there were no known casualties from the episode.

Dave actually lives in a suburb of Anchorage called Wasilla, and from what I can gather from previous pictures of his on Facebook, he lives in a rather remote area that favors moose and other wildlife as opposed to tall buildings that can tremble and fall on you.

Dave did post a picture of a knee he skinned when the earthquake came, causing him to lose his balance. He might be the only known casualty in Anchorage, if he reports it.

And there are the aftershocks. The news this morning said there have been more than 650 of them. Whoa.

Dave actually responded to a friend on Facebook that so far, "What is unnerving are these 'aftershocks'. You feel them coming on and you're ready to ride the mechanical bull again."

I can't imagine. 

I tried calling him again later, and while service was back up, a woman's voice answered and told me that I had the wrong number. Curiouser and curiouser. But Dave has never been one for following the norms. Geez, he lives in Alaska, for crying out loud, and he has (off and on) for more than 40 years.

We actually visited him once, back in July 1992, where he took us to Earthquake Park in Anchorage. It's a jumble of rugged upturned rocks left over from the Great Earthquake of 1964. It was midnight, and we sat there talking and drinking wine coolers and waited for the sun to set, which, of course, it never did.

I myself have never been in an earthquake – not even a slight tremor – although Kim does make the Earth move for me. But I can't imagine solid ground letting loose like that. Earthquake Park is the closest I've ever been to earthquake damage.

All this got me to thinking, though. The three Wehrle boys are pretty much spread out across the country, and so far, we seem to be handling our natural disasters as well as can be expected (I know. Kiss of death right there).

I live in North Carolina, where we have hurricanes. Or at least tumbling trees when the tropical storms blow hard enough. It's still unsettling when the wind gusts reach 40 or 50 miles per hour, even here in Lexington.

Our youngest brother, Scott, lives in Oklahoma, where they have tornadoes. Okay, so do we on occasion, but ours are mostly F-1's. Out in Oklahoma City, the Fujita Scale tends to break higher than in North Carolina. I'm not sure if Scott has actually even seen a tornado, but I figure his odds are better than mine of seeing one. I hope he never does.

And then there's Dave in Alaska.

I guess we'll take our disasters one at a time, just like everyone else does. It's all we can do.

Sunday, November 25, 2018


The last time we'd been to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's self-designed masterpiece located just outside of Charlottesville, VA., was probably about 30 years ago.

We enjoyed it so much that Kim had been bugging me to go back for the past 29 1/2 years or so.

We finally gave ourselves the opportunity to return last weekend when we made our annual pilgrimage to Richmond to attend a Civil War artifacts show with another couple.

So we went. There were some changes from what I last remembered about our previous visit to Monticello. Imagine that.

First off, there is now a visitors' center. It's where you purchase your ticket ($23) and catch the shuttle to the premises. Then, as the visitors assemble, they are segmented into manageable tour groups of 20-25 people. Each tour group is separated by about 10 minutes from the other.

I'm never sure if this is the front or the back of Monticello...
 Considering that this was a cold, blustery Sunday morning in November, I was shocked by how many visitors were on hand. It was remarkable. Tour groups were everywhere.

What I remember from 30 years ago (It's amazing the things I remember that I don't remember. It's a real conundrum) is that we drove to the actual Monticello property, parked the car, purchased our tickets on site, then met a tour guide at the front door, where we waited patiently for 15 people to show up to form a tour group.

Anyway, our assigned tour guide was an African American gentleman who also happened to be a sophomore at nearby University of Virginia, where he was majoring, curiously enough, in poetry.

I mention our tour guide's ancestry because Monticello was designed as a working plantation that utilized the labor of about 150 slaves toiling for the author of the Declaration of Independence, a man who famously wrote that all men are created equal. Talk about conundrums.

Jamal was great. He pointed out things like the weathervane and cannonball clock that Jefferson designed, as well as elk antlers from the Lewis and Clark expedition that occurred during Jefferson's presidency. He showed us the bed in which Jefferson died, Jefferson's library, and Jefferson's self-taught architecture flourishes. All the while, he would insert African American history tidbits regarding Monticello that added fascinating perspective to the tour.

Monticello (correctly pronounced Mon-tee-CHEL-lo) is not part of the federal National Park Service, but rather sustained by donations, admission fees and probably the occasional grants. The place is a working archeological site where they are constantly discovering slave graves or peeling back the wallpaper to find the true color of paint on the walls. Neat stuff.

At one point on the tour Jamal mentioned that Jefferson thought the Constitution should be rewritten every 20 years to keep pace with changing times. When the tour was over I privately asked Jamal if amendments weren't the tools for changing the Constitution. I mean, what did Jefferson know? He was off in France when the Constitution was still in draft form. Jamal agreed that rewriting the Constitution now probably would never work, especially in these partisan times. But back in the nation's formative years, it might have been a workable concept.

I asked him if he thought writing the Constitution every 20 years might have brought an earlier end to slavery, and perhaps without a Civil War at that. He thought it over for a minute and agreed it could have been a possibility.

Our trip to Monticello was fruitful and enlightening. We're planning to go back again, perhaps in the spring when the weather is warmer and the gardens are in bloom.

I can't wait. Jefferson's an interesting guy, full of the arts, science, political theory, curiosity, and contradictions. I'll never look at a nickel the same way again.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Meme this

Whenever I surf Facebook to see what my friends are eating that day, or who's mad at the Eagles for not signing the next franchise running back, or to just smartass with my buds, I also find myself slogging through a quagmire of memes.

I generally don't pay much attention to memes. Most of them are well-meaning and usually reflect the sincerity of the sender, and that's OK. I'm just going to scroll past them because I am who I am and a meme isn't likely to make me a better person, even though the sincere sender might wish otherwise.

I'm approaching septaugenarism and pretty much set in my ways anyhow, I guess, so it's unlikely a meme is going to make much difference to me regardless.

But I also like clever stuff and a good meme should make you stop scrolling for a minute while you ponder the "Aha!" moment. I generally give each meme I see about two seconds to try and work its magic on me before I scroll on. Wordy memes especially get a quick pass.

But this past week, I came across two memes that really did the trick for me.

Here's the first one:

I think I've seen this one before, but given the perceived raised level of national bias against nearly everybody these days, I thought it was particularly effective.

And clever.

And irrefutable.

At this point I'm tempted to give my two cents worth, because it's my blog and I can say what I want (First Amendment, which I don't think can be cancelled by executive order). But I don't want this to become a sermon. I think the meme can speak for itself. That's the beauty of a good meme when it makes you think.

The second meme was this:

The current branch of Wehrle boys are fifth generation Germans. If Franz hadn't left Wilhelmshaven for Pennsylvania in 1862, it's likely I'd never have had a barbecue sandwich from the Barbecue Center.

I'd never have met Kim.

I might never have been me.

There's currently a rapidly shrinking caravan of Hondurans and Guatamalans approaching the southern U.S, border seeking asylum from oppressive governments and they've been turned into a political tool just in time for the U.S. midterm elections.

But it's not surprising.

Immigration has been a difficult and complicated issue in this country, well, almost forever. There's the forced immigration that was slavery, starting in the 1600s. The Great Migration followed shortly thereafter, bringing Germans, Irish and Italians, which didn't sit particularly well with the established xenophobes. During the Civil War, for example, non-English speaking Union German soldiers were reviled as "Flying Dutchmen" after Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Irish "need not apply." Italians were criminals.

Chinese immigration didn't go particularly well on the west coast in the mid-1800s, even though the Chinese helped build a transcontinental railroad. During the Civil War. Let that one sink in. Fight a war, and meanwhile use immigrant labor to build infrastructure.

As late as 1939, a boat loaded with 900 Jewish asylum seekers fleeing Nazi persecution, the MS St. Louis, was refused entry to this country.

We like to think we're better than this. There's a statue in New York Harbor that says we are. Maybe we aren't.

Damn. I preached a sermon anyway.

Sunday, October 28, 2018


What? Again?

Has the word "massacre" become our middle name?
It sounds insane.

The headlines of hate spew hotly, freely from a semiautomatic clip;
a spiral trip.

A bomber today, a bullet tomorrow
adds to the men of constant sorrow.

Our skin color, our God, our political bent no longer free;
we are all targets of opportunity.

All of us.

Our point of reference remains ourselves, to reach the roof,
both capable – and incapable – of peace.
And truth.

We share the same blood, our global humanity,
and yet, we can't seem to find
common identity.

Keep striving, the burning fever must break soon.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Another stellar class

I'm a little reluctant to say this, because I am on its board of directors as well as an officer (secretary) and I don't want to jinx anything, but the Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame seems to be running pretty much like a well-oiled machine these days.

The 17th annual induction ceremony was held last night at the J. Smith Young YMCA Third Avenue Event Center with yet another spectacular class of inductees: legendary North Davidson softball pitching coach Billy "Chief" Gerald; North Davidson softball standout pitcher Danielle Glosson; East Davidson girls' basketball star Anna (Freeman) Healy; Thomasville's five-time state champion basketball coach Woody Huneycutt; Lexington tennis standout Varner Sink, and sensational Central Davidson state champion swimmer Caroline Smith.

George Feezor, a benefactor of West Davidson athletics and the creator of Fab Masters, perhaps one of the most dominant slow-pitch softball programs in the state, was inducted posthumously, and Lexington's Tim Holt, one of the most humble and sincere human beings you're ever likely to meet, was inducted as the "Unsung Hero", primarily for his volunteer work with Little League football programs.

This year's class brings a total of 128 inductees into the Hall over the past 17 years, which means we're averaging 7.5 inductees per year. I don't know who claims the one-half fraction – maybe that person gets an extra yeast roll at the ceremony banquet.

One of the best moments of the night was Glosson explaining how she first learned several months ago about her pending induction. Board member Dale Odom, who coaches the American Legion softball team of which Glosson assisted, asked Glosson if she would do him a favor and call Chief Gerald to inform him of his induction. It seemed appropriate because Gerald was her pitching coach at North Davidson. Glosson said she'd be delighted.

At the moment Glosson was dialing Gerald, Gerald was dialing her. They simultaneously informed each other of each's soon-to-be induction. That was cool. Very cool.

The Hall of Fame has come a long way in 17 years. The first induction ceremonies were too long. The very first year, the Hall inducted 14 inaugural members, and each inductee had a presenter. Consequently, patrons were lucky to get home before midnight.

Over the course of time, the Hall has tweaked and polished its program. There are no longer wordy presenters. Most inductees take less than 10 minutes – and usually only about five minutes – to say thank you.

Consequently, I was home by 8:30 p.m., in time to watch Purdue dismantle Ohio State, and then watch the Dodgers win the National League pennant.

It's good to be part of a well-oiled machine.
•   •   •
You can access the Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame Web page to nominate future candidates and to read the biographies of the current inductees at:

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Eleanor's home run

After following Americana string band Underhill Rose for the past six or seven years, I found it a bit unusual to look up at the stage and see a lead guitar, a bass guitar, a drum kit and ... a banjo.

That's not a combination you see very often, I think. Yet Asheville's Eleanor Underhill (banjoist of the aforementioned Underhill Rose) easily made it work to satisfying proportions.

She was in town Friday night, performing at High Rock Outfitters for the Lexington release of her first solo CD, "Navigate the Madness". Backing her up were three talented musicians in their own right – Silas Durocher (lead), Matt Lane (bass) and Chris Pyle (drums) – whom she calls Eleanor & Friends and who play fairly regularly at 5 Walnut Wine Bar in Asheville.

Eleanor played five or six songs off of her new album, several Underhill Rose songs, an unpublished tune or two that could eventually show up in the UR catalogue and a bunch of covers ranging from Steve Miller to Prince.

It was kind of a revealing evening. I'm used to seeing Eleanor as one half of Underhill Rose (with Molly Rose Reed the other half) singing beautiful harmonies.

Interestingly, last night really wasn't about seeing Eleanor come out of her musical comfort zone. In my world, it was more about me coming out of mine.

It became abundantly clear to me that musicians like Eleanor are probably filled to overflowing with their art and consequently utilize other avenues of expression to get their musical exploration out there.

I was also impressed with how easily all the talent on the stage glided from one genre to another and how they seemingly enjoyed (eyes closed, brows furrowed) each tune they performed. Their solo bridges, as usual, highlighted their talents, as well as their love for what they do.

I can't do anything musical except listen to it. But even that, as a member of the audience, requires a subtle talent to discern and appreciate what you are hearing. I think that's a revelation that came to me last night. We are the artist's sounding board. They need us and we need them.

That's also why I wasn't sure what to expect from Eleanor last night when we walked into HRO, but when she was done with her show, we came away impressed and satisfied.

Well done, Eleanor.
•   •   •
On a side note, Eleanor's performance was highlighted by the arrival of her parents, Roy and Jane, who were on hand to celebrate Jane's birthday.

Roy, of course, is the host of the long running PBS program, The Woodwright's Shop. It was evident for all to see the obvious pride both Roy and Jane have for their daughter's accomplishments.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Eleanor's bold move

A couple of years ago, during a set break at an Underhill Rose performance in a small venue near Hickory, singer Eleanor Underhill and I sat at a table and had a casual little chitchat about writing – she about her music, and myself about the direction of my blogs.

We compared notes. The gist of our discussion centered around becoming a little more edgier. She confided then that she'd gotten some criticism for being "too light" or "too sunny" in her craft, although I'm not sure how edgy you can be while playing smile-inducing instruments like the banjo or the harmonica, both of which I think she is a virtuoso performer.

Eleanor Underhill makes her solo debut at High Rock Outfitters on Friday.*
 Eleanor is also a prolific songwriter and there's no way I could have known then that her unpub-lished catalogue no doubt included tunes that I didn't know about and that would never show up in an Underhill Rose concert, where she performs in the Americana genre with co-founder and friend Molly Rose Reed.

But a door has opened. Molly is in the final trimester of her and her husband Tyler's first child, due in November, and Underhill Rose currently is taking a break from touring.

So the timing is perfect for Eleanor to release her first solo CD, "Navigate the Madness." It's a collection of 12 tunes that she's birthed, tweaked, nourished and refined over time. Some of the songs were written years ago; others are of more current inspiration.

She will be performing Friday night at High Rock Outfitters, starting at 9 p.m., in the Lexington release show of her CD. She had her Asheville (where she lives) release show a couple of weeks ago, featuring five backup musicians. At HRO, she'll have three musicians behind her: Matt Lane on bass; Silas Durocher on guitar, and Chris Pyle on drums.

"I will structure the show a little differently than I did the Asheville show," Eleanor wrote in an email. "We play around here all the time so I felt compelled to do something that was a bit different. At High Rock, we won't be playing the album front to back but instead we'll play about 75 per cent of the songs mixed in with some unpublished originals, Underhill Rose songs that I penned, and fun covers."

This will be a different Eleanor than we know from the harmonies of Underhill Rose. She provided me digital access to her album for review and you can immediately see the artist in her exploring eclectic new avenues of thought and curiosity. The email came with hashtags marked #haunting, #psychedelic, #folksy, #fusion, #baroque-pop, #jazzy. It's all of that, and more.

The email did not come with lyrics or liner notes, so I don't know which musician contributed what, and I'm not always sure of what I heard in the voice tracks, so my review is, admittedly, incomplete. But some of the tunes I liked included "Never Meant to Say Goodbye," "Before I Head West Again," "Captured in Arms," and "You Know I Would." Pay attention.

It's good to see Eleanor step out like this. I don't know if she feels like she's out of her Americana comfort zone or not, but artists are often compelled to follow their muse and take us with them on the journey. Heck, I didn't know the banjo could sound like that. It's bold. It's fun. And, yes, it's edgy.

*Photo by Donnie Roberts

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Crossfire hurricanes

Before I write another word, let me make it clear that I understand the hurricane damage suffered by millions of people in this country in the past month or so is next to unbearable and that the loss of life is horrifying.

Even today, as I write this, isolated portions of Davidson County, located at least 200 miles inland from any hurricane landfall, are still without the incredible convenience offered by power, and there has been enough property damage to keep contractors busy for months.

But in point of fact, this area has been hit by the tropical storm residue of two hurricanes within four weeks: Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael.

We were literally in a hurricane crossfire. Florence came inland from the Atlantic coast in mid September, making landfall near New Bern and giving us here in the Piedmont plenty of rain and wind gusts close to 40 miles per hour as she made a crazy westward track against the jet stream before looping northeast.

We parked our cars in the treeless parking lots of nearby businesses.

A tree in our neighborhood fell and took out the power for a few hours.
 Then, this past Wednesday morning, Michael came up through the Florida Gulf coast, still a Category 2 hurricane when he hit Georgia.

By the time Michael reached Davidson County on Thursday, he was a tropical storm. And for one hour, at least, he was packing wind gusts of 55 miles per hour right outside my house. He was going from west to northeast, urged along by the jet stream. Go figure.

I was a little nervous. I can't remember the last time I saw rain come in horizontally. Does rain ever hit the ground if it falls sideways?

A tree in our neighborhood fell over, blocking a road and taking some power lines with it. I could tell that my neighbors across the street were suddenly powerless. No lights. They had nothing to do except go to their front porch. That's how you can tell the neighbors have no power. They come out and stand on their porch.

Strangely enough, I saw this event happen in real time from my dining room window. I saw the sparks fly as the wires broke free from the pole. I called the utilities department, got a live voice, and within 10 minutes a fire truck was on the scene, barricading the road. An hour later, an utilities crew was working in the storm, which had abated significantly. And less than three hours from my call, power was restored.

That was amazing.

Natural disasters and their impact are relative, of course. The damage in Lexington is nothing compared to what happened in Mexico Beach, Fla., which has been virtually obliterated. And yet, there's been flooding and ponding in the streets of Denton. Hampton Road, the shortcut between Davidson County and Clemmons, was under Muddy Creek.

All we can do is cope and make our way the best we can.

Until the next disaster.


Sunday, September 30, 2018

My first food recall

The voicemail was a little disheartening.

And a little late.

The phone rang the other day while I was watching TV, and the caller ID that pops up on my TV screen gave me a number that I didn't recognize. So I didn't jump to answer the land line phone located two rooms away. If I don't know the number, I'm not answering. So there.

But whomever called left a message. I eventually listened to the message a couple hours later, after Kim got home from work. It was from Harris Teeter, where we do our grocery shopping. We usually do our shopping on Sundays. The voicemail arrived late Monday afternoon.

A pleasant sounding feminine voice, recorded and without showing any sense of alarm or urgency, politely informed me that their records indicated that we had recently purchased the store brand Low Fat Cookies and Cream Frozen Yogurt. They were calling to tell me that the product was being recalled.

"Recalled" was the only word I think I heard, if I recall. That rattles your cage a little bit, especially when it's about a food product. I thought they only recalled cars. I started thinking in terms of e coli or salmonella and started wondering if I'd live to see the next sunset.

And to think I was worried about my AFib.

So we listened to the message again. The voice ticked off the numbers on the yogurt's bar code: 7, 2, 0, 3, 6, 9, 8, 1...

Yep. That's me. Every number matched. Wouldn't you know it? This is the only lottery I've ever won.

Then it hit me – I'd already eaten half of the yogurt. I'm a goner.

The message continued. The product was being recalled because apparently it might contain some peanut agent. If anyone in our house had a peanut allergy, I should return the product ASAP.

Whew. That was close. Kim and I eat peanuts (and peanut butter) like it's the last food on earth. No allergy here. We had dodged a peanut.

But all of this got me to wondering. How did Harris Teeter know I'd purchased their yogurt? How did they know my home phone number? How'd they get peanuts in their cookies and cream yogurt?

I guess all the information is located in the store's nerve center, which for us is the check-out lane. The cash registers are basically computers, just like everything else we own: our cars, our TVs (our TVs are watching us, you know), everything.

I actually took comfort in that knowledge, realizing the store's cash register had the potential to save my life. Knowing that, I happily finished off the rest of my cookies and cream frozen yogurt.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Bug off

Not too long ago I wrote a blog piece about the marvels of WD-40, an industrial lubricant which apparently can be used for everything from removing chewing gum from your hair to acting as a primer to start jet engines (I'm making that last one up right there. But you get the point.)

So the other day, as I was getting ready to mow the lawn, I was wondering what I could do to reduce my chances of getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, which seem to be in overabundance this year.

No, I didn't cover myself in WD-40.

But I was getting a little leery of spraying myself with Off! or Repel or anything else that contained deet. You know. Because of the chemicals.

Why should I worry about chemicals now, you may ask. After all, back in the 1950s, I was part of the neighborhood band of kids that frolicked behind the city DDT truck as it slowly drove down the street spraying clouds of carcinogenic chemicals into the air. It was almost as much fun as chasing after the Mister Softee ice cream truck.

We also did Duck and Cover exercises in school in case of nuclear attack. Ahhh, the 1950s.

Anyway, I recently tried this one organic spray called Repel Natural, which does not contain deet. It was more of a liquid than an aerosol, and as far as I was concerned, it didn't work for me. The 32 mosquitoes that landed on me after my application showed me that.

Then Kim remembered something.

"I think I read once that if you take a fabric softener sheet and put it in your pocket, it keeps the mosquitoes away," she said.

"Yeah, right," I thought, and tried it anyway.

I took a sheet of fabric softener, rubbed it on my exposed arms and legs, stuck the sheet in my pocket and happily went to mow the yard.

I only got bit once.

Wow. This stuff really works.

I told Kim about it, and she tried it when she went out to water her garden. She came back into the house a half hour later complaining about all the mosquitoes that bit her.

I don't know what happened. The only difference between us is that I'm male and she's female. I hate to think that there's a gender bias involved, but maybe fabric softeners don't work well when mingled with estrogen. I don't know.

It got me to thinking what chemicals were hidden in the fabric softener. So I looked at the ingredients and it told me a sheet "contains fabric softening agents (cationic types)..."

Uh-oh. What does "cationic" mean? It's not a word that comes up in sports writing very often.

I googled it: "An ion or group of ions having a positive charge and characteristically moving toward the negative electrode in electrolysis."

Well, that certainly cleared that up. I could see mosquitoes dying by the millions. Probably of laughter.

I told Kim. Her backup plan is to spray herself with Avon's Skin So Soft, which she also heard is a good mosquito repellent.

Hmm, maybe. I wonder how it mingles with testosterone?

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Slo-mo Flo

Hurricane Florence just might be one of the strangest storms that I can remember.

What I do remember is Hugo.

Hugo was back in 1989. I was a sports writer for The Dispatch and a 13-year resident of Lexington by that time. Having originally moved in from Pennsylvania, I'd never really been in a hurricane before.

But Hugo scared the bejeezus out of me. Kim and I lived in a wooded parcel at the south end of town with tall trees looming everywhere. It's amazing how much bigger 100-foot tall trees get when they're swaying over your house.

Hugo, if I recall, made landfall near Charleston, then traveled inland up through Charlotte. I don't know if it was still technically a hurricane at that point, or downgraded to a tropical storm, but it brought fierce winds and wind gusts as it skirted through Lexington.

Trees toppled. Power was lost. We still put out a paper, but it had to be printed at The Salisbury Post.

Florence, by comparison, looked to be a similar threat. It was huge. And it was tracking straight for our house.

But not before hitting our beach house in Cherry Grove, SC, first. Man, a double whammy.

Then strange stuff started happening. Further north, Wrightsville Beach became ground zero. New Bern took a horrible hit. Wilmington was in the cross hairs.

Our beach house is on the left. Did we dodge a bullet?
And then Florence curiously went from a wind event (100+ mph winds to 70 mph) to a rain event. It's traveling velocity slowed to three miles per hour, indicating this hurricane perhaps really was in no hurry at all. It headed south along the coast before going inland. Huh? Against the grain? Against the gulf stream? Against the jet stream? How does that happen?

For some reason, Cherry Grove seems to have dodged a bullet, if not an artillery shell. A random photographic image taken by the City of North Myrtle Beach and posted on Facebook Saturday shows our beach house with water perhaps ankle deep in the streets, but not much debris floating around. It's not raining. Lucky?

The rain is supposed to continue today as the storm, now a tropical depression, heads northwest around Charlotte before looping northeast into Pennsylvania. Around here, the winds have abated somewhat, although I don't think they were ever Hugo-like in the first place. We never lost power at our house. We even went out to eat Saturday evening.

According to the forecast, rain will fall all day today as Florence continues her slow trek through the Piedmont. Maybe I should have seeded my lawn?

Anyway, those tall trees in my neighborhood seem to be looming less as the storm passes through. Let's hope so. There's still a lot of rain to come.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Bank on it

About a month or so ago, I was purging my mailbox of all my spam emails for the day.

There were quite a few. Click, click, click, whoosh...

Then I came across one from Chase that sounded pretty official, warning me that it looked like some unusual activity had been detected in my online statement.

Uh oh. I hate when that happens. It usually means passwords need to be changed. Phone calls need to be made. Anxiety needs to be abated. I'm not a computer nerd. When anything out of the ordinary shows up, like spinning beach balls or popup alerts, I start to sweat (see my recent 'No sweat' blog).

I wondered what I should do.

Then it occurred to me: I don't have an account with Chase. What the heck? How can there be unusual activity in an account that I don't have?

Click. Whoosh.

A few days later, I got an email from Wells Fargo, warning me that there had been some unusual activity detected in my online account.

Uh oh. How did that hap... Oh, wait a minute. I don't have an account with Wells Fargo. What the heck?

Click. Whoosh.

 A few days later, I received another email from yet another financial corporation. As soon as I read "Unusual activity," I hit click. Whoosh.

All through this, I'm pretty sure none of these emails had corresponding corporation logos on them. Not that a logo on the email would be a qualifier for me, but it does send something of a shiver through you if you think your finances have been tampered with.

Getting all these emails reminds of the good ol' days when I used to get emails from third world royalty, telling me that I qualified for massive sums of money from their dead uncle if only I would make contact with them.

Click. Whoosh.

Even this morning, I got an email from an address that read "stergios3," claiming he was a physician in Sydney, Australia, and he was looking for nurses, doctors, laboratory managers, engineers, etc, willing to relocate for the duration of a three-year contract.

Not sure how the scam works on this one, but, c'mon. Do your due diligence, buddy. I don't even speak Australian.

And then there's this: Lately I've gotten phone calls on my land line from somebody that is using my phone number to call me. Huh? I know this because of the caller ID feature I have that tells me I'm calling myself. I'm pretty sure that I'm not so bored that I have to call myself for entertainment.

Kim, out of curiosity, answered one of those calls, and she got a recorded message that suggested our licensing with Microsoft had expired.

We don't use Microsoft.

Hang up. Bzzzzzz.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

On service

When I was a young child, I once thought about about joining the military. I'd been reading books on the Civil War, and later, on World War II, and they had my attention. I was entranced by the pictures and news reels of shiny military machines without much considering why they were needed in the first place, or what they could do when utilized.

By the time I was in junior high school (we didn't have middle schools then), I kept hearing about a war in a place called Vietnam. By the time I graduated from high school in 1969, the war was still going on. And escalating. People my age were being drafted to fight in steamy, forgotten jungles, and for what? To protect the Constitution? To staunch communism? To feed the military-industrial complex? I don't know.

So I went to college. And guess what? Four years later, the war is still raging. People my age were dying. Somehow, I'd lucked out with a ridiculously high lottery number that kept me out of the draft. I didn't have to burn my draft card. I didn't have to run off to Canada.

So I never made the decision to enlist, and didn't think much about it afterwards.

The family tree doesn't show much in the way of military service anyway. I had some great uncles who served in the Union Army in the Civil War, along with a great, great grandfather. There was an uncle who saw combat in World War II. And one of my brothers, David, enlisted when he came of age. Although he was stationed mostly in the icicle jungles of Alaska, he is considered a Vietnam-era vet, having volunteered before the war ended in 1975. If there are other family members who served, I don't know about them.

The way I see it, once you make the decision to enlist and wear the uniform, you're a hero. I've had some debates about this. Some think heroism is defined by physical sacrifice and honor, and while I agree, I think the moment you put on that uniform and have your picture made with the American flag behind you, you've already made a life-altering decision. You sacrifice certain rights (especially in basic training) that you've taken an oath to protect and defend.

Even clerk-typists, or cooks, or support troops, might be called upon to take up arms at any moment. You never know. Enlisting is an amazing step to take.

But not all of us are meant to be warriors. That needs to be understood, too.

I thought about this a lot this weekend, watching the memorial services for Senator John McCain, and the sacrifices he made. Could I have endured what he endured as a prisoner of war? Made the decisions he made? Unlikely.

As the years passed, as I read my Civil War books, or watched World War II on the History Channel, or, significantly in my lifetime, videos of Vietnam, what it means to be military takes on its own clarity and sense of purpose.

Sometimes it's good to get a refresher course on what it all means. And requires.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

No sweat

I think I have a sweat gland directly over my left eyebrow.

Well, maybe not. I don't know for sure where the sweat glands in my head are located. All I know is that when I'm working out at the YMCA, or going for a walk with my wife on a humid summer evening, a rivulet of sweat inevitably appears over my left eyebrow and drips into my left eye.

Sweat beads up all over my forehead, but it only seems to flow into my eye. Without fail.

It's pretty annoying.

I mentioned this to Kim the other night while we were walking through town and I was wiping the sweat from my eye with the shoulder of my T-shirt.

"I'm getting tired of this," I said.

"Get a do-rag," she said, not missing a beat.

Hmmm. I hadn't considered that. I usually wear a baseball hat, thinking that should be enough to staunch the flow of sweat. But it doesn't. All I end up doing is staining the inside of my hats with my sweat. I usually have to put my hats in the dishwasher afterwards to get them clean again.

But a do-rag? Hmmm.

I briefly considered a sweat band, and then a bandana. I'd worn a sweat band in my younger days when I played tennis, but I was never happy with the sensation that I was wearing a vice on my head.

I wore a bandana once when I was in elementary school. Mom dressed me up as a scarecrow for Halloween. I wore the paisley bandana around my neck, not my forehead, thus totally missing my sweat gland. I probably looked incredibly cute back then, but I'm pretty certain I'm long past cute now. Function is what I'm looking for.

So a couple days go, I began my do-rag reconnaissance.

Maybe a do-rag isn't the answer...
 It wasn't as easy as you would think. A couple of the area big box stores didn't have any, nor did the smaller dollar stores. I was thinking I might have to go to a Harley-Davidson outlet, where I was sure I could get a pretty menacing looking do-rag, if menacing was what I was after.

We ended up at a mall in Winston-Salem, where I walked into a baseball hat store. The guy behind the counter told me he didn't have any do-rags, but I should go to a cosmetics store, like Sally's. They usually carry some there, he said. So it was back to Lexington, where I found a do-rag at Sally's for $2.99, including tax. (Who knew?) The cashier there dutifully asked me if I had my Sally's membership card with me. You know. For the discount.

Nope. Sorry. This was my first purchase at Sally's. Ever.

When I got home, I tried on my new do-rag (It's spelled "Du Rag" on the packaging). I was surprised by how lightweight it is, like I'm not wearing anything at all. That's good. No vice on my head.

I went to find Kim, who was working in the yard. I think she snickered when she first saw me, with my do-rag tails and ties all askew.

She fixed me up, and we took a picture. I tried my best to look menacing, thinking nobody's going to give me crap the next time I interview them for a story.

But I don't think it's working. The picture makes me look like a cute bald guy dealing with a bout of constipation.

I'm not sure what the answer is. Maybe I should get the bandana after all, and keep it in my hip pocket until I need it to wipe the sweat from my eyes.

Sunday, August 19, 2018


It was inevitable.

Sooner or later, I was going to have to come off my aspirin regimen and switch to a drug more target specific as a blood thinner to treat my atrial fibrillation (a-fib).

That change happened this past week. But not without a little adventure.

This all started seven years ago, when I was first diagnosed with a-fib. Apparently, one of the atrium's in my heart goes Boom-biddly-yop-de-whoop instead of a more rhythmic Boom, boom, boom. That's a-fib. Blood can clot in that chamber and then possibly move on the the brain, where it can cause a stroke.

When my cardiologist (yes, I can now say 'my cardiologist'), Dr. Katie Twomley, discovered this, she put me on 325 mg aspirin tablets as my blood thinner. Thin blood apparently lessens the risk of stroke.

But two years ago, when I turned 65, she told me it was time to consider something more precise than aspirin. We let that year pass because I was feeling pretty good. To this day, I don't feel any symptoms of a-fib, whatever they may be. If Twomley didn't let me know I had a-fib, I'd never know that I had a-fib.

Anyway, after last year's annual visit to 'my cardiologist', Twomley was more assertive, insisting that I switch to Eliquis, which I guess is pretty much the Cadillac of blood thinners for people with a-fib.

I was all for it until I found out that Eliquis retails for about $430 per month.


Up until now, my heart meds cost next to nothing. I could refill my metoprolol and lovastatin with a $10 bill and still have enough change to buy a refreshing vanilla-chocolate-strawberry cholesterol cone.

This was different. This was my first real brush with the cost of health care. There's no generic for Eliquis, which still has a year left on its patent before it can be considered for a cost reducing generic. Twomley kept me on aspirin for a little bit longer while we investigated pricing, and just what was going on with my health insurance anyway?

To make a long, boring story shorter (if not less boring), I called the customer service number on the back of my Plan D prescription card. My insurance did indeed knock the price down – to $212.44.

Yikes. There goes dinner.

I asked further questions. It took me two associates on the other end of the line, and 20 minutes into the conversation, before they told me that if/when I met my deductible of $256, my monthly cost for Eliquis would be $40 per month.

Well, geez, why didn't you tell me that 20 minutes ago?

I rushed to my pharmacy, where I gave my pharmacist a heads up about my impending Eliquis prescription, which Twomley had already called in. I'd pick it up tomorrow.

"Oh," he said, "do you have your free coupon?"


So I rushed back to my cardiologist, where an associate did indeed give me a coupon for a month's free trial of Eliquis. I called the activation number, and after about 15 minutes of dial-tone prompts, I was told that I now had a free month's supply.

All the while I'm wondering about the logic of a $430 drug being given away for free. How does that work again?

I'm also wondering about Medicare Plan F, where everything is free after the monthly premium. I think.

I also know my story is basically insignificant. There are other people who rely on life-saving medications that can cost upwards of four figures per month (if not more), making me wonder about the morality of a health care system that is based on for-profit capitalism and not humanity.

Meanwhile, the Eliquis is busy working, I guess, keeping my blood thin. We'll see how that goes. I have a dentist appointment next month, where they poke at my teeth with sharp metal instruments and make my gums bleed.

Could be another blog in there somewhere.

Monday, August 13, 2018

A tree grows in Blowing Rock

About a week before our annual three-day getaway to Blowing Rock, I heard this distressing news from one of my friends:

They cut down the trees in the town's Memorial Park.


That was the sound of the vacuum sucking the air out of my lungs.

Say it ain't so.

But, sadly, the news was real. When we pulled into Blowing Rock late Friday afternoon, there they weren't – a total of 12 fully mature red maples had been chopped down because of some kind of internal rot or blight (see here.)

In their place were young black gum trees, a species said to be resistant to the disease that felled the maples. It'll only take about 50 years to get the park to where it once was. If it works, the place will be beautiful, especially in the fall. Black gum trees usually become bright red when the leaves turn, so it should be something to see.

I can't wait. I'll be 125.

Black gum trees take the place of the felled red maples in Blowing Rock.
Still, it was a tough sight to absorb.

We talked with a local or two, who said when the diseased trees came down that some year-round residents had a difficult time with it.

I can only imagine, although after reading the stories about the trees, it appears the town is taking the reasonable and responsible path.

First off, I was surprised to learn the maples were less than 100 years old: most had been planted in the 1940s.

Secondly, the disease apparently had been discovered some 25 years ago, so town council had been aware of the problem for decades. Something had to be done. It would not be a good thing for dead tree limbs to fall on tourists licking their Kilwin's ice cream cones.

In many ways, Memorial Park is your prototypical small-town green space: there's a gazebo, tennis courts, basketball courts, strolling paths and a playground, not to mention crisp mountain air. You halfway expect Prof. Harold Hill to show up with up 76 trombones and a barber shop quartet for the town social.

There's also Art in the Park, which is why we were there to begin with. Kim and I usually do this in August to escape the heat of the Piedmont for temperatures that might be at least 10 degrees cooler.

This year, we seemed to get caught in a series of annoying pop-up rain showers. But that was OK, too. Because on Saturday evening, there was this:

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Air and Space

Whenever the five roommates go to Gettysburg (I did an approximate trip count in my mind's Texas Instruments calculator: This year's outing to the battlefield was somewhere close to my 40th visit in the past 35 years, and I have to tell you, the Yankees win every single time), we also try to make room for a side excursion.

This year, we took the time to spend several hours at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center – otherwise known as the companion site to the National Air and Space Museum – located next to Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va. It's just a little more than an hour away from Gettysburg.

The Enola Gay is a featured attraction.
One member of our group had never been to the museum before, so that made it a no-brainer to go there this year. For me, it was my third visit, and each time I've gone, it's been a wonderment.

The first thing that strikes you is just how humongous this place is. It has to be in order to display hundreds (maybe thousands) of rare aircraft, including some of the largest the world has ever seen. Some of those very big vehicles include the space shuttle Discovery, the Concorde and the Enola Gay. They are all resting comfortably in the same building, under the same roof.

That's a big wow.

There are, in fact, several featured aircraft: Everyone, it seems, wants to see the Enola Gay, which dropped the world's first atomic bomb that helped bring World War II to an end. The space shuttle is also a huge (literally) attraction. But the plane that fascinates me the most is the sleek SR-71 Blackbird strategic reconnaissance plane that practically sits in the museum's front door.

The SR-71 spy plane is looking for you...
This plane was designed to be the next step beyond the U-2. What amazes me is that development began by the Skunk Works in the 1960s – yes, the 1960s – and features technology that is still said to be classified to this day.

Like just how fast is it? A total of 32 of these things were built, and none were ever shot down because they could outrun the missiles fired at them. The plane was designed for Mach 3 speed – three times the speed of sound – which puts it somewhere in the 2,000 mph range. But there is speculation it could go even faster.

The Blackbirds were supposedly decommissioned in the 1990s, replaced by spy satellites that were much more fuel efficient and didn't put human lives at risk. But I've read where some folks think at least a few of these planes still are doing Skunk Work work for the deep state. Hmm.

The technology behind the space shuttle is also mind boggling, but the most compelling moment for me was seeing the scorched heat resistant tiles that decorated the vehicle.

You can see clearly the scorched tiles on the nose of the shuttle.
And seeing those tiles made me realize that we were/are capable of putting men in space. It left me wondering why we aren't doing more of this stuff. I mean, how are we going to become the Star Trek generation if exploration sits idle?

The history of flight unfolds in this building almost from the very beginning. I say almost, because the original Wright Flyer remains hanging in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum at the Mall in Washington DC. So is The Spirit of St. Louis. I find it interesting that two of the most iconic aircraft in history are not located with their cousins in Chantilly. I don't know the reason for that. I guess the museum on the Mall can't give away all of its good stuff.

I have a special fascination for World War II aircraft, and there's a bunch of familiar mixed in with the rare. There's a P-38 Lightning, a P-40 Flying Tiger, an F4U Corsair, and F6F Hellcat, a P-47 Thunderbolt, along with a Hawker Hurricane, a German FW-190 and several Japanese planes. Not on display are ME-109s, B-17s or B-24s. I'm guessing they're somewhere on site, in storage or restoration, waiting for their turn in the rotation. Or a bigger building.

There's never enough time to see all of the things you want to see in a place like this, and that's a dilemma for future side trips.

I was hoping we could go to the Tastykake Bakery next year.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Philly Dilly

There's a huge part of me that doesn't want to jinx this, but I'm going to write about it anyway.

Here it is: When I summoned up the National League East standings this morning, there were my Philadelphia Phillies still in first place, 2 1/2 games in front of Atlanta.

Whoa. It's now the end of July. The Phillies have 58 games left in the regular season, so now it's a race against time to see if they can hold on long enough to clinch a division title.

It's oh-so unexpected. The Phillies are generally regarded to be one of the youngest – if not the youngest – team in major league baseball. They were not picked by most experts to do this well this soon. And, indeed, there's still enough time for the bottom to fall out.

Most of us Phillies fans still remember – vividly – the collapse of 1964. The Phillies held a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 games left to play.

And lost 10 straight. St. Louis won the pennant that year.

These old hats of mine are not a prediction, but rather, just a predilection...
 Believe it or not, 1964 was the year I became a Phillies fan. We'd just moved back down to Bethlehem, PA, after a four-year residency in New Hampshire and Connecticut. I was 13 years old and baseball was a big part of my summer tapestry. The Phillies were an hour away and in first place. I became a fan. Jim Bunning. Chris Short. Tony Taylor. Cookie Rojas. Clay Dalrymple. Richie Allen. Johnny Callison. They're still like family members to me.

In fact, I know the 1964 roster better than I know the 2018 roster. After Rhys Hoskins, Ceasar Hernandez and Carlos Santana, I'm pretty much lost. Go Phillies.

Although I must say, since the team has been doing relatively well this year, I've followed them with more than passing interest. I actually check the standings most mornings now.

Something is going on in Philadelphia, though. I mean, first the Eagles win the Super Bowl. And then Villanova, a smallish Catholic school in the suburbs, wins the NCAA championship. And now the Phillies? It's too good to be true.

Time for a cheese steak.

I do have a back-up plan in case the Phillies falter. I still follow the Boston Red Sox. This is a love affair that's actually deeper than my fandom of the Phillies. Because, you know, we lived in New England during my formative baseball years. Ted Williams. Pumpsie Green. Vic Wertz. Frank Malzone. Tracy Stallard. Bill Monbouquette.

I've always been fascinated with Fenway Park, and no doubt, that's part of the Boston allure for me. Old School. Green Monster. Bunker Hill.

This year, the Red Sox might be the best team in baseball. They are 40 games over .500 with a wowzer 73-33 record and showing no signs of stopping. They are 5 1/2 games ahead of the New York Yankees, but anything can happen as we make the turn into the stretch drive.

But for now, I think I'll just sit back and enjoy seeing my two favorite teams playing good baseball at the same time. How often does that happen?

Not often enough.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Spiders and snakes

Is it me, or have the spiders arrived early and in force this year?

I spent a good part of my day yesterday with broom in hand trying to clean away spider webs. And not just a few spider webs. A ton of spider webs. The balusters on my front porch are clearly woven together with silky webs.

The mailbox attached to the front of my house appears to be particularly attractive to spiders. So do the corners of most of the windows on my house.

Spiders have done their work everywhere, including our flower boxes. Some of our geraniums are now connected to the siding of our house, and the steps leading up to my back porch are also webbed.

It's amazing.

I try to clear away the webs as often as I can, but spiders apparently are insistent. I can remove a web one day and it'll be back the next.

Caught in the act: This spider is already at work this morning...
I'm not a big fans of spiders – I don't screech "Eeek" when I see one; I emit more more like a groaning "Yuck" – but every once in a while, like early in the morning when it's still dark and I head to my car in the driveway as I prepare to go to the YMCA, I'll walk face-first into an unseen web that was spun overnight. That's a "yuck" moment.

The back of my mind keeps whispering "recluse" or "black widow," but what can I do beyond setting up Klieg lights?

I started noticing the spiders in early June and thought to myself that this might be unusual. Don't spiders usually show up en masse around September and October? Isn't that why they're so popular around Halloween? I don't know.

Spider webs are all over my front porch...
Snakes haven't been much of a problem in our neigh-borhood, although some of my friends on Facebook are posting pictures of the black snakes and occasional copperheads that show up in their garages and driveways. Nice. Thank you for that.

Still, I keep a wary eye out whenever I'm doing yard work. Shortly after we moved here about 15 years ago, one of our neighbors was bitten by a snake while clearing his backyard. Thus the lane behind us has been known as "Copperhead Alley" ever since. Local lore there.

The good news is that we live in a neighborhood where there are a couple of free-ranging cats, who happen to be natural foes of snakes. We've been told the cats have been bitten so often that they are now immune to the copperheads. Consequently, now and then we might see a baby snake carcass lying belly-up in the yard. Good cats. Kim occasionally puts a bowl of cat food out for them. I don't know if she's rewarding them or enticing them to stay. Maybe both.

Spiders and snakes. I don't know. We share the planet with them, so I guess we just have to cope.

And hope we don't live near a road named Sharknado Alley.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Underhill Rose, minus one, plus two

For my wife Kim and myself, the anticipation level had reached a different plane. Not higher. Not lower. Just different.

We always look forward to hearing Underhill Rose perform at High Rock Outfitters, but on Saturday, for the first time in the six years or so that we have been following them, we would see them as a duo instead of a trio.

Salley Williamson, the upright bassist who provided a third part of near angelic harmony to the group, left the band last October to reclaim something like a normal life beyond plucking strings and touring down Interstate highways every weekend.

We didn't know what to expect.

We shouldn't have worried.

Guitarist Molly Rose Reed and banjoist Eleanor Underhill, who began life as Underhill Rose about 10 years ago as a duo, were back to their roots. They met while attending Warren Wilson College near Asheville, and then soon after became part of a well-regarded local female string band, the Barrel House Mamas. When that group eventually dissolved, Molly and Eleanor decided to strike out on their own.

That decision makes the rest of us who follow them very, very lucky. Their harmonies have almost always seemed effortless, and to make things just right, they are both accomplished musicians. Eleanor, in fact, can accompany herself with the harmonica while at the same time bringing her banjo to its knees. It's truly something to see. And hear.

On this particular night, Gary Oliver – who's traveled off and on with the band before –  was playing upright bass (he can also play drums), providing the girls a steady, bold and confident bass line.

And drummer Michael Rhodes was also there, giving Molly and Eleanor one less thing to worry about (he said) while establishing rhythm and beat.

They played two sets Saturday night, tossing in a couple tunes now and then that we hadn't heard before in their show. Molly served up "Dublin Days," a wistful song she penned about their tour to Ireland last year. I wanted to hop on a plane and go.

Eleanor gave us her "Captured in Arms," inspired by the massacre at the Bataclan Theater in Paris in 2015. It's an unlikely tune for Underhill Rose to perform, but I'd heard her sing it before in a solo performance in Asheville last year. This time, with Molly, Gary and Michael backing her, it was an amazingly moving song. The line "Please don't kill my friends anymore" is a hard one to let go. (Listen here )

During the first set, Eleanor told the audience to feel free to ask for requests. About five or six were suggested (including "Freebird." Sigh), and consequently, about half of the songs planned for the second set were bumped by the requests. That was cool.

I asked for two cover tunes: Jamey Johnson's "In Color," and John Prine's "Long Monday." I love both of these songs in any case, but Molly and Eleanor have somehow made them their own. Johnson and Prine ought to pay them performance fees. "Long Monday," a plaintive but thoughtful love song from a master lyricist is special, especially with Eleanor's melancholy harmonica bridge and soulful vocal interpretation. It's an earworm that is still with me days after the concert. The difference is I don't want it to go away. (Listen here).

Changes are possibly on the horizon for Underhill Rose. They are still negotiating a landscape without a third voice. Duo or trio – which way will they go? Meanwhile, Molly is pregnant with her and her husband's (Tyler Housholder of The Broadcast) first child. How will parenthood affect band dynamics? And Eleanor is preparing for her first solo CD release.

I'm a selfish guy when it comes to Underhill Rose. I just want them to continue on for as long as they can. The harmony. The talent. The personalities.

It just all adds up.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


I just completed a bucket list item that I didn't even know was on my bucket list.

My neighbor, Perry Leonard, gave me a ride in his 1952 Willeys CJ-3A Jeep. I was both excited and hesitant at the same time. I was excited because I enjoy classic vehicles, and what could be more classic than a vehicle that looks like it could have landed at Omaha Beach?

But I was hesitant because, you know, there are no airbags. No doors. No roof. No rollbar. Perry's wife, Jeanne, refuses to ride in it because she figures there are only two viable options for her: (a) getting thrown out of it, or (b) getting crushed by it. Maybe both.

Perry Leonard stands over his 1952 Willeys Jeep.
I decided to suck it up. When Perry came by to pick me up, I eagerly hopped in the passenger seat and buckled my seatbelt, the only concession to safety in sight. Unless, of course, you factor in Perry's driving ability. I was counting on that.

I actually thought my chances for survival were pretty decent because, according to Perry, the vehicle rarely goes faster than 35 miles per hour. I think the gearing must be really low because when he motors down the road, the engine almost screams and it sounds like it's ready to pop off its mountings.


He took me across town. We drove out to Lexington Golf Club, and then through Twin Acres before doubling back into town and up Main Street. I noticed people were looking at us. I remembered that exact same sensation when Kim and I drove our 1966 Mustang convertible around town. Those were the days.

The Willeys four-cylinder engine provides incredible power, not speed.
 But the Jeep was somehow different. All I had to do was glance to my right and see the road passing under us. I loved the wind blowing through the two hairs left on my bald head. I loved that I could barely hear myself think against the straining of the engine. Plus, I felt every bump in the road.


I was having a blast. I thought we were nearly through with the ride when Perry headed us over to Northside before coming back on Winston road, and then we made an encore appearance down Main Street again. We might have been gone a half hour to cover what normally takes about 10 minutes.

Along the way, Perry told me he bought the Jeep about three years ago from Chip Ward. The vehicle was resting comfortably in the tree line near the lake there and had been idle among the foliage for about six years, but Perry made an offer and it was his.

He thinks it's an old Navy Jeep, because Navy Jeeps didn't have tailgates and this one is tailgate free. It's also painted kind of a hideous Forest Green (Perry thinks it even might have been purple at one time), but he's hoping to paint it Navy grey at some point and throw in some military serial numbers on the hood for authenticity. But first he has to recover from having the transmission refurbished ("Some of the gears were missing teeth") before he goes any further.

It may not even be military. If it truly is a CJ-3A, the CJ stands for "Civilian Jeep" (according to Wikipedia). But I think it's close enough.

Some of the gauges on the dash still work – on occasion. The speedometer worked a couple days ago, and Perry's still guessing how much gas is in the tank, which is located directly under the driver's seat. It holds 10 gallons, which I guess minimizes the risk of an explosive fire. There are no windshield wipers right now, and the steering wheel is incorrect to the vehicle. He's been caught in a sudden downpour more than once.

Mere trivialities.

The whole point of this thing, of course, is in taking some history to the road. Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces on D-Day and thereafter, said the Jeep was essential to winning World War II. And even though Perry's Jeep is Korean War vintage, you can appreciate the lineage.

As long as you don't get thrown out.

Sunday, July 8, 2018


The other day I went into our guest bedroom to search for a book I keep in the shelving there.

It was then my eye caught the bottom shelf of the bookcase: at least 100 record albums were sitting there, upright, out of sight, out of mind, forgotten, and yet, at the same time, a valuable vinyl diary of my youth.

I forgot about the book I was looking for; I started flipping through some memorable album covers. The Beatles were there, of course, from start to finish, as well as most of their solo work (to this day, I am a Beatles-phile. Not only do I have their complete catalogue on vinyl, but on cassettes and CDs as well. I am prepared).

It was my collection of records after the Beatles that tickled me, some of which I'd forgotten. Some I wished I'd never remembered. My taste in music virtually jumped the scales.

 There was the good stuff, of course. There was the fabulous farewell by The Band, "The Last Waltz." I listened to that one over and over back in the day. Then there was some Dave Mason, Simon and Garfunkel (four albums), James Taylor (2), Bruce Springsteen (3), Jackson Browne, Don McLean, Eagles (3), Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (2), Fleetwood Mac (4), Doobie Brothers (3), Carole King (2) and Carly Simon (2). (Carly's "No Secrets" album cover held no secrets. As did Herb Alpert's (5) "Whipped Cream and Other Delights" cover before that, which seemed somehow a coming of age for me. Hey, I was only 14 at the time.)

I kept flipping through the albums. For some reason, I bought Richard Harris' "A Tramp Shining," possibly for "MacArthur Park." Don't ask. I also found three Harpers Bizarre albums because I like tight harmony, but having said that, I don't own a single Beach Boys on vinyl. Go figure. God Only Knows.

Back in my college days in Pennsylvania, I detoured into progressive rock and jazz and I faithfully listened to a radio station out of Philadelphia, WMMR. Consequently, I have "The Use of Ashes" album by Pearls Before Swine, featuring a song called "Rocket Man," which has no connection at all to Elton John's (2) "Rocket Man."

I also dug Yes (4) and listened to Yessongs ad nasuem. Yours is No Disgrace, after all.

I also have two Weather Report albums ("Black Market" and "Heavy Weather", of which I had long forgotten. I also got into Chuck Mangione for a while, but he was never Herb Alpert. He never had a compelling album cover.

There were some familiar names whose albums I bought, but to this day, I don't know why. I have The Kinks "Muswell Hillbillies," but I don't recognize a single song title. I have John Klemmer's "Waterfalls," but here I shrug my shoulders. There's the Moody Blues, but I'm not sure "To Our Children's Children's Children" was a real biggie. Watching and Waiting, I guess.

Then there's Starland Vocal Band. Two words: "Afternoon Delight." But no Stones. Hey, I'm a Beatles guy. (I do have the Stones on CDs, so calm down).

There are some one-time purchases I do appreciate, like Melanie, Janis Ian, Pure Prairie League (for "Aime"), Boston and Genesis.

But what are Dr. Hook, Captain & Tenille and the disco Bee Gees doing there? Oh, yeah. After I got married, some of Kim's records merged into my collection. That's also where some of the beach music filters in. Beach music was a good addition.

Some artists I didn't realize I liked so much: I have four Cat Stevens albums, which must have come from my metaphysical period. There are three Billy Joels, three Steely Dans, three Rod Stewarts and two Associations.

The Sixties and early Seventies was not my country period. Again, I had to get married before I learned to appreciate Johnny Cash, Patty Loveless, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, et al. None of them appear on any records I own.

Looking back, it's great to have all these vinyl albums. It's like a scrapbook of my life, bringing back all these memories in the way that only music can do.

If only I had a turntable that still worked.