Monday, November 22, 2010

REAL ESTATE - Growth - Bah Humbug!

As a certified "Grumpy Old Man", I am legally required to complain about everything. If I am ever found to have a positive opinion on any issue, I could lose my Social Security benefits or be required to eat supper at 4:30 at the "WoodGrill Buffet". Now, in order to complete the requirements to qualify for my handicap license plates and big sunglasses, I want to complain about growth.

Harrisonburg was such a perfect town before it got big. No shopping centers, strip malls, traffic and all these people in the check out line at WalMart. For most of the year, I go out of my way to avoid driving on Reservoir Street or Port Road and that makes it almost impossible to get out of Costco on a Friday afternoon. Now, with all this traffic comes more stoplights. It take almost 20 minutes for me to get to the Heritage Oaks Golf Course and I pass at least 12 stoplights when going to the JMU Theater or a football game.

The most insidious effect of this unbridled growth has been on real estate values. In 1976, I bought a small home for $11,000 but, because of growth, the next buyer of that home had to pay $32,000. In 1979, I bought a home in Fairway Hills for $75,000 but the poisonous effect of this growth has probably quadrupled that value by now as homes become more unaffordable.

Why can't Harrisonburg be more like Covington? This idyllic rural town has found a way to control growth. First of all, they don't have some big annoying university around and most of the businesses have shut down. There largest employer is a paper mill and even though it has more layoffs every year, it doesn't smell as bad as it use to. They have even found a way to reduce traffic and probably have fewer stoplights than 20 years ago. Best of all, they have been able to curb the rising value of real estate so well that you can still find a large selection of nice homes for less than $100,000.

What was I complaining about? Remember, I'm old and sometimes forgetful. Is it 4:30 yet?


Monday, November 15, 2010

The 5 and Dime - Colors taken on 11/15/10

A FALL not soon to be forgotten.

Need I say more!!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The 5 and Dime - Only Ourselves to Blame

Just over a week ago, Harrisonburg citizens relinquished one of our most valuable players in helping the city to accomplish the optimum goals for the majority of the people. On November 2nd approximately 15,000 voters had the opportunity to support Carolyn Frank by continuing her position on City Council for another term, but we chose not to do so. Some citizens abstained from voting and, perhaps equally disheartening, some voted strictly party lines.

I can not profess to understand the reasoning, or perhaps lack thereof, but I can categorically state that we have greatly hindered our chances of success by losing a common sense, not for sale, tireless, warrior of a woman on Council. Carolyn never concerned herself with big money or a title. If the plan did not enhance the quality of life for the majority of the people, she did not support it. She continually fought to be a good steward of taxpayers' money and she stood up for what was right even in the face of having to stand isolated from all.

I could go on and on about the myriad activities and number of incredible improvements Carolyn has brought to our wonderful city but I won't. Leave it to say, the only judicious, well-grounded advocate who fought for our voices to be heard is now extinct from council and I am immensely grieved. I loath being called a naysayer but I imagine in the years to come many more of us will also be grieving and we will only have ourselves to blame.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Change of Seasons - Kenny coming home.

82 years young, independent and strong, running a farm on her own, riding horses with a daughter in Colorado. One month later - a stroke, a stomach tube, a move from the farm to a nursing home and suddenly now she is 82 years old. There was no easing into it, no edging, it was analogous to the ball dropping in Time Square on New Year's Eve. There was no grace granted to prepare, our sensibilities were numbed as we went through the motions.

She is our mother, known loving as Kenny and now she is 85 years weak and lonesome. There is this idea that one finds companionship and comfort when surrounded by their peers but we sense something totally different here. As peculiar as it may sound, we see Kenny amongst many, yet very lonely. Is that a distancing created intentionally or is it part of the aging process? Regardless the answer it is difficult to watch.

In a few short weeks there will be a changing of the guards. On November 1st we bring Kenny back home to her 50 acres, 4 horses, 2 dogs and a cat. We will be her ceremonial guards but it will be more than that because we are her daughters. Upholding past traditions we will also learn to perform new duties, more akin to being a mother to our mother.

This is not a fortuitous move we are making, quite the contrary. For over a year we have held deliberate conversation, fantasized, envisioned and prayed over the myriad of possibilities of our decision only to be blurred by so many "what ifs". Our spirits will directly dictate the beauty or perhaps the unwholesomeness of our decision. Imperative are the qualities of patience, understanding and love which we pray will supersede all other emotions.

There is a change on the horizon, a change of seasons for five of us and although we enter into it with great aspirations they are shadowed by our trepidations. Time will show us the wisdom (or not) of our decision but until then we will take all the prayer we can get.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

REAL ESTATE - Harrisonburg's Newest Industry

Last night, a group of us went to the new Forbes Center for a musical production and we all continue to be impressed with the facility, although the musical was a little weird. As we left the theater, I couldn't help thinking of what this area looked like in the past. Buffalo Wild Wings was Doc's Tea Room and the parking deck is on the location of the Daly Shoe Factory. It all made me remember the other industrial giants who once called Harrisonburg home.

The Water Street parking deck was the site of our police station when I was a kid but before that, it was a tannery. The Metro building on Broad Street was a pants factory and Sancar Flats once held scores of employees making underwear. In recent years, we lost the Kawneer plant (Lowes) and Dunham Bush was replaced by Harrisonburg Crossing. It seems that the only production left in town involves poultry or ice. I guess we need to find a new industry to keep our economy going.

Geezer Business

That's right, it is the economic engine for our town and this one won't move to China. It is time to think of the Grey Panthers as a business and concentrate more efforts in attracting them to town.

Think about it. They have money and spend it, they don't take jobs, suck up public assistance resources or have kids in school. They are generally good citizens who take care of their property, pay their bills and have a positive economic impact on the community. We already have the attractions in place: beautiful scenery, activities of JMU, cheap public golf, lots of retirement homes, all you can eat buffets and a brand new hospital. The only downside is that they are sometimes pretty cranky and can be a traffic hazard but other than that it is a "match made in heaven."


Monday, October 11, 2010

The 5 and Dime - Can you identify these guys?

While working "Kenny Duty" this little fella came running out from under a bush when the
lawn mower blew cut grass in his face. An adolescent I would guess as he did much more running on the ground than flying.

To my (untrained) eye I thought he looked lost and was perhaps trying to find his way to the beach not the Appalachian Region. Can you identify this guy for me please?
I could also use some help to identify this guy. He was also found around Clifton Forge, Va.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Our BIG Garden - Tear Down

The time has arrived to begin disassembling the garden in preparation for Winter. This is rather a bittersweet time as it signals the end of the growing season; the last of longer, lighter days and the finish of backyard BBQ's.

For some folks the advent of Fall and Winter is very bleak and discomforting. Many become despondent and even inconsolable but those are feelings I cannot fathom. The brilliant azure sky, flame colored leaves and white billowy clouds make for a stunning picture alone. Now couple that with the clear, crisp air and cooler temperatures and it becomes evident that my spirit has lifted to heavenly heights.

The aromas wafting from a soup pot warming on the stove and the sight of a crackling wood fire lit in a cozy room elicits a comforting joy not found during the humid, summer months. At long last it is acceptable to shut your door at 5pm when darkness arrives. Essentially it is now permissible to relax by the fire and enjoy a great book or sip wine with friends. We can now indulge ourselves in life's sweetest, greatest pleasures.

My excitement is elevated during this time of year to overflowing and I pine to console others with my appetite for the season. As I have repeated numerous times in the past, the four seasons we experience is truly a gift. About the time the chill of Winter is all you can tolerate, a glance in the dormant garden will show some plants waking up under the cover of mulch, looking out as if to be inquiring whether it is safe to come out yet. And then before you realize it - Spring has sprung!!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

REAL ESTATE - Long Term Investing

Last week I sold my boat and delivered it to the new owner in Winchester. Conveniently for me, my daughter and her family live nearby so I arranged to meet them for lunch and spend some quality time with my sweet little granddaughter. Over our lunch, my daughter asked if I got a good price for the boat and I told her that I have owned 5 of them and made a profit on every one. She was amazed but I told her that the secret is in the timing. I always buy a boat in winter and sell it in the summer and this method has worked for 13 years.

This same plan also works for real estate, buy when the market is down and sell when prices rise. Today's market is probably the best buying opportunity since The Great Depression and the bold investors in that market made fortunes. The truth is that our area is growing and sooner or later, that growth translates to housing demands which will raise prices. We have tried to make wise purchases of rental property and hold on to it until we need to cash in our chips for some other objective but, over the long term, values keep rising.

For 35 years, we have bought, sold and rented property and the income from those ventures will help us through our golden years. For that same 35 years, we have invested in stocks and funds. Over that span of time, we gave our money to 5 different brokers and they all lost money, our money. So you can understand why I have become one of those geezers who tell young folks to buy real estate and hold on, because it is the best investment of all.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Our BIG Garden

This has been an incredibly hot, dry summer with June posing our biggest danger for our growing season due to the drought. Just about the time our infantile plants were beginning to mature the heavens closed shop for the month as if to say "Only the strong survive."

Now I profess that saying wholeheartedly especially when it comes to my over zealous gardening abilities or lack thereof. At the first signs of Spring, Carolyn and I are enthusiastic in tilling the soil, laying off rows and sowing our seeds. Even QGG rises to the occasion and feigns excitement at the opportunity to break in her new garden gloves. The thoughts of dirt actually mussing her gloves however is secretly horrifying to her. She doesn't fool us though as Carolyn and I realized last year that she was an actress in her other life and a darn good one we now know!!!

As foretold every year, June gave way to July and then July defected to August and we did harvest some amazing veggies even if the quantity was diminished. We ate Poona Kheera cucumbers from India; Tonda DiParigi carrots, a 19th century Parisian heirloom; Crapaudine beets, thought to be one of the oldest varieties dating back 1,000 years; Dragon Tongue beans, a Dutch heirloom and Kamo Kamo squash, an heirloom pumpkin of the Maori people of New Zealand. Of course I have only named a few varieties of veggies. Remember the name of our garden, "The BIG Garden" so I cannot possibly recite the entire list of seeds stashed in that plot of soil.

I think it is fair to say we admired our work so much so that we were never disappointed with our produce. We were able to snatch enough from the rabbits to feed us and share with others. In fact the garden crew is beginning to feel like a green bean about now due to the heavy production. So life as a farmer turned out fairly well, or it did until about the first of August.

If you recall QCC was never any good at getting her hands dirty or at sweating so she only ate the produce that was delivered to her door or that I cooked and served her. What a Katherine Hepburn!!

Now Carolyn is a different story. She launched into this project with great passion even desiring to locate another vacant lot whereby we could plant more than our 26 kinds of seeds and not only will she sweat and get her hands dirty - she will get everything dirty. I filled with great angst at this zeal because I know Carolyn and could foresee the future. My uneasiness was heightened when my dependable sister jumped ship with the garden this year. She could also see into the future and thus acted with some intelligence. Oh woe is me, I was now in serious
trouble and still I allowed it to happen. I might liken it to a deer in the headlights scene.

(Now we have moved into the future....) and Carolyn, true to form has behaved like a hummingbird, flying from place to place and landing nowhere. She actually would say to me, "I can't come to the garden tonight because I am going out to dinner with so and so" or "I can't come to the garden tonight because I am getting a massage." Can you just imagine the dumbfounded look on my face while my eyes were rolling back into where my brain use to reside and I would shake violently. Once speech was possible again my retort was, "Well I could go to dinner or get a massage too if I DIDN'T have to work in the garden tonight." Need I say more. Then in August the real shoe dropped as Carolyn injured her knee and became disabled so she tells me, at least for gardening duty. As a result, I can be found in our BIG garden, stooped over, a lone soldier, harvesting in 90+ degree weather. After which I trim, wash and prepare the produce only to deliver them (and eggs I might add) in the wee hours of the morning at the doors of QGG and Carolyn.

Can I tell you "I am OVER this garden." Truth be known I have cut a hole in the fence in hopes I can entice the rabbits back in. In fact I am searching the internet now looking for garden eating bugs and bores because "I AM OVER THIS GARDEN!!!". Do you hear what I am saying garden (non) helpers??

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The 5 and Dime - Yet another BBQ

A young Army soldier home from the war, a microbiologist, a truck driver, a mother, an Espiscopal Priest, a physician, an insurance agent and the roster continues. Far-reaching in vocations within this one gathering, offering a gamut of incongruities.

Hailing from Missouri, Maryland and just over the county line depicts only a minor portion of the eclectic group who attended the August 2010 BBQ.

With June weather in August; a slightly, waning moon; gentle, subdued breezes and the soft, flickering of lightning bugs, we converged to share a meal, meet new friends and greet old ones.

Unlike the vocations and locations, the variety of instruments was reduced comprising only 2 banjos, 1 fiddle, 2 guitars and a bass and all of a sudden the diversity was lessened.

Steve and Mark were our grill masters, determining the effectiveness of a remarkable smoker that Mark had constructed. In tow, from Missouri to Virignia, he and his wife, Christine delivered this outstanding gift to Steve. The meat was succulent, the group was complete and the night flat-out gorgeous.

Oldfriends; Steve and Mark, new friends; Christine and me, feelings spoken and those unspoken, in retrospect it appeared a common thread weaves us all together. I proclaim it is conceivable that amongst the myriad of differences we all succumb to the same end - love and acceptance and at long last the chasm exists no longer!!!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

REAL ESTATE - Love, Hate Relationship

Some ancient philosopher said that love and hate are 2 sides of the same coin. That is what I think about each year at this time as the college kids return to their seasonal party grounds.

I am usually reminded of their return on Freshman move in day when I am stuck in traffic on Reservoir Street and get cut off at the light by a Lexus with Jersey plates. Another indicator is the growing amount of trash along the street at our office. Beer cans, pizza boxes and fast food bags appear each morning and we know classes have begun when the red plastic cups start sprouting in our yard. My anger usually peaks when we lose a cluster of mailboxes or I have to confront some punk to explain that I do not maintain the yard so his pitbull has a place to poop.

My anger doesn't last long as I soon realize that this migration will go on whether I like it or not and my personal suffering is a small price to pay for the benefits of JMU. There is a positive side to life with 19,000 extra residents and all of the other things that JMU brings to the community and it starts with economics. Besides a 395 million dollar budget to run the school, the financial impact from students, faculty and staff floats our local economy. They buy homes, rent apartments, shop in our stores and work alongside all of us in community service projects. Harrisonburg would be a mighty dull place were it not for the money and energy from JMU. Maybe the next time I get cut off by the Jersey Lexus, I will just smile.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The 5 and Dime - Keezletown Cannery

Please be certain to read "The 5 and Dime" dated 8/18/2010, 1940's Farming, before this one.

(A sister showing off her Grand Titons and one to spare!)

On August 17, 2010 at 8:30 am four of us headed to the Keezletown Community Cannery to can 5 bushels of tomatoes. Under normal circumstances this would be a daunting task, taking untold hours if prepared in our home kitchens. I ask you to only imagine the amount of tomato seeds, skins and juice that would be concealing the floor by the end of the day? I literally get the nervous tremors at the thought. I have to admit it makes me want to just sew that bomb in my underwear thing . . . . some of you remember the underwear bomber right!

Few people seem to know about our local cannery and that is an immense loss for them. Although home canning has been losing favor through the years it is slowly coming back into vogue with many families choosing to buy local foods then store them up for the winter. Recognizing the call, we four sisters excitedly headed out to process our local tomatoes for the fifth year.

(The shorter, dark haired girl in this pix is not a sister but a magazine writer. The other sister would be me and I am taking the pixs.)

I could go on for pages explaining to you the speed in which a project like this can go due to the aid of massive cook pots, pressure cookers the size of which could preserve a human being and steam tables equally large but you can't fathom the camaraderie and accomplishment gained if you never tried. No canning experience is necessary as Trudy and RT Hammer, the cannery operators are consistanly by your side making certain you do things right to stay safe and be successful. Also they are the only ones allowed to operate the more risky equipment. (Thank goodness for that blessing.)

Be prepared to have a day you will always remember. A day of meeting and working with new neighbors and feeling a complete sense of accomplishment when you cast a view over those colorful jars of food just waiting to be enjoyed during the cold winter days.

Hey and you know what else? After our day of working together, sharing lunch with fellow

canners, eating gingersnaps and reading magazines we arrived home at 3pm (to our clean kitchens)

with 76 quarts of pure gold!!!

(This is just some of the stash - the others jars were still in the cooker at pix time.)

BTW, you will never guess who stopped by for 10 minutes (not to get her hands dirty nor to stay too long due to the sweltering heat) none other than.........QGG!! We suppose she is expecting at least half of the production from this day of work.

The 5 and Dime - 1940's

1940's style Farming!

As part of the war effort during WWII, the government rationed a great many foods.
Because of transportation and labor shortages getting fruits and vegetables to market became impossible. To address this problem the government called on the citizens of this country to plant "Victory Gardens". This meant they would supply their own produce and consequently make their rations go further.

Gardens were planted everywhere; backyards, empty lots and even roof tops. Neighbors worked together, pooling money and resources and formed cooperatives in the name of patriotism.

It has been estimated that more than 20 million victory gardens were planted. In 1943 there was an estimate of 315,000 pressure cookers sold compared to 66,000 in 1942. (C. Reinhard, the Ganzel Group)

At the end of the war came the end of the government promotion of victory gardens but it was during this time of need when the Keezletown Community Cannery (KCC) began. In 1942 it started in the basement of the Keezletown School and like many other public canneries during that era, was supported partially by the school system.

KCC is one of a handful of non-profit, can your own, facilities in Virginia. Due to budget cuts Rockingham County no longer supports the cannery. The Horizons Learning Foundation is fervently working to continue the operation of one of the oldest canneries in the U.S.

Please help support this endeavor because our community would sorely miss such a valuable piece of history. Also check out my next 5 and Dime to read about our
latest adventure at the cannery, hopefully you will glean a bit of understanding as to the importance of this historical place.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

REAL ESTATE - More Student Housing?

We have just witnessed the approval of another student housing project. This one is no where near JMU and is on land formerly zoned for industrial use. The developer got a variance to allow more units per building and construction will start soon. Most folks don't get it. Why does it seem that these projects are popping up faster than roadside taco stands?

The truth is that student housing apartments have passed taco stands for many years, in spite of the fact that JMU has had negative demand for off campus housing since 2005. So why do we need another huge student apartment project?
We don't, but lets look at what the major players have to gain to explain this phenomenon. First of all, most of our city officials (not Carolyn) have approved rezoning, variances and development plans on the short sighted belief that the increased tax base is a good thing. The second big player is the developer, who doesn't care about our staggering surplus because they have another plan. The third force at work in this equation are the students, who tend to want those apartments that are the biggest, best and newest. They always seem to gravitate to the hot new development, no matter where it is and no matter what it costs.

So here is how the scenario works. The city re-zones land and approves the new development. The developer leases 95% of the project to students. After a few years of high occupancy and good rental income, the entire project is sold to some isolated investment group. The new owners have no idea of the thousands of surplus units because their purchase is based on the brief financial performance of the project. Developer number one takes the money and runs while the new owner has but a few years before the project starts its downward spiral.

So why should we, as innocent bystanders, care about the student housing merry go round? Because we are the big losers in the long run. Most of the formerly popular student units eventually become some form of low income housing. That bedroom at Hunters Ridge, which once cost $400 per month, can probably be rented for $150. The condo at University Place once rented to 3 students for $900 a month now houses an extended family of 8, who pay $400. These old student rentals have become a magnet, drawing in low income residents from 40 miles away and further straining our school system, social services, health care and public safety. This burden far exceeds any property tax benefit and the rest of us are paying the bill.

So, when the new student housing paradise opens in 2011, be proud, because your taxes ultimately pick up the tab for this housing surplus. Maybe they will let us use the tanning beds or the hot tub . . . . .


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

< 6 Degrees - L. Brickhouse

Today I am introducing the woman in the right of this picture.

March of 1912 in Savannah, Georgia, the first organized meeting of this group was held consisting of 18 members. By 1920 there were approximately 70,000 members and by 2005 there were over 3.7 million. Started by Juliette "Daisy" Gordon Low, Girl Scouting in the U.S. began. Several months after its inception girls were hiking in the woods in their uniform skirts, playing basketball on curtained courts and camping.

MEET: Liz Brickhouse, at the age of 64 she continues to be an ardent believer in community involvement. She is a Girl Scout leader for rising 5th graders, her troop is comprised of nine young ladies. Recently the group left Harrisonburg on a Friday night and headed out for their fourth camping trip of the school year, not to return until Sunday afternoon. This is not unusual for Liz to donate her entire weekends for the cause. Currently the troop is looking for a community project where there is a particular need for action to be taken. Completion of this project would give the troop the highest award possible while in Junior Girl Scouts. How many degrees separate you from Liz?

When I questioned Ms. Brickhouse about her passion she replied, "I wish I could clean up this oil spill. I get passionate about the environment. I also have a firm belief that everyone should have health care." You can glean a great deal of information from her concerning composting and organic gardening.

You can find Liz at the RMH Wellness Center on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5:30am exercising in the pool with Philecta for their health. Dripping with an approachable demeanor and an embracing smile you will think you have been her best friend for years. Thank you Lizzy for having such a positive impact on our young women.

Friday, June 4, 2010

< 6 Degrees - P. Staton

Today I will be introducing the woman on the left of this picture and next week I will tell you about the woman on the right.

Apartheid was a legal racial segregation system enforced in South Africa between 1948-1994. The rights of the majority non-white inhabitants of this area were squelched by the minority rule of whites. Uprisings, protests and violence was prevalent before the death of apartheid. Can you imagine living in this country during this overwhelming upheaval?

MEET Philecta Clarke Staton. In 1993 she returned to the U.S. after having resided in Africa for 20 years, during the fall of Apartheid. In 2007 she retired from Genworth Financial and moved to Harrisonburg to be in close proximity to her children. Philecta has been involved in ministerial work for the majority of her 69 years. How many degrees separate you from Philecta?

She is enthusiastic about her work with JMU students through a college, church ministry which includes preparing a wonderful Sunday morning breakfast for the group. When I questioned her as to her passion, I could see a plethora of topics rolling through her thoughts but I reeled her in by only requesting one of two. Gardening was in the top 10 list as well as her dedication and advocacy for the Harrisonburg Farmer's Market. Philecta is also a freelance writer. She recently completed a book on ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) designed to help with lifestyle issues of this disease and other diseases that cause swallowing issues.

You can find this caring, benevolent woman swimming on Monday, Wednesday and Friday
at the RMH Wellness Center at the early hour of 5:30 am. It would be well worth your time to venture out in the dark some morning and come meet her.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Our BIG Garden

Ok, so lets have a refresher on what has been happening in the garden. The hard workers (HW = Steve, Rob, Carolyn and Sarah) successfully planted the garden and are now harvesting numerous bags full of wonderful, heirloom veggies.

If you remember, the Queen Garden Guard (QGG) has been halfheartedly devising plans to eliminate the pesky rabbits. First there was the attempt to scare them away by yelling at them while reclining in her front porch swing, sipping lemonade, avoiding the sun (and work) at all cost. When that approach failed she posted the "Rabbits Keep Out" signs, remember those? Well come to find out our rabbits don't read English. Next came the frog riding his bicycle. Can I tell you that many nights I see the rabbits munching on greens appearing to be in deep conversation with Mr. Frog. I honestly believe they are best of friends while our friendship with QGG is waning quickly.

Then came the foil pie plates. While they are a valid deterent according to some gardners because QGG thought they looked "tacky" she discreetly attached them to the fence whereby she nor the rabbits would be bristled by there appearance.

Not questioning the perilous work QGG had undertaken, we HW are now taking matters into our own hands. See pix below.

Yes we are installing a new, 20 gauge, galvanized, 1 inch mesh, menacing fence. Are you reading this QGG??? Where are you now, somewhere in the south of France in a mountaintop villa? Perhaps you will see this in person should you ever return home. By the way, I think your days are numbered.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

< 6 Degrees- L. Johnson

Born in England in 1821 this woman watched eight of her siblings and eight of her cousins die before her age of 16. Her family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where her father began a sugar business like the one he had run in England.

After being rejected by 16 schools this woman was finally accepted by a college in New York. After many years of difficult studies and flagrant discrimination from predominately male students and the townspeople as well, she graduated on Jan. 23, 1849. Her name was Elizabeth Blackwell and she attended Geneva Medical College to become America's First Female Doctor.

In 1949 only 5.5% of medical students were women and in 1979 only 22.4%.

MEET: Lois Johnson, or more precisely I should say Dr. Lois Johnson. Currently, at age 79 she is a retired pediatrician as well as a teacher. Petite in size but a giant in her accomplishments she is quiet and unassuming. Imagine the phenomena of being a female, back in the day, and graduating from medical school yet none of us knew until I showed her house for sale and spotted her degrees hanging on the wall. Dr. Johnson also taught at the University of Cincinnati and Central America in Cincinnati. Although she is an avid quilter and knitter, Doc Johnson enjoys repairing antique clocks. This was a skill she acquired from a friend pediatrician years ago while many of the docs shared a 40 room house in Ohio. How many degrees separate you from Lois?

Married for 44 years, she and her husband recently moved to Bridgewater Retirement Home (her house sold). Three to four times a week, around 6:30am you can find them in the pool at the RMH Wellness Center working hard to maintain good health. She won't make herself known so you may need to initiate the conversation but I promise you it will be well worth your time. We commend you on your accomplishments, it certainly could not have been easy. You are a wonderful example for us to follow.

Monday, May 24, 2010

REAL ESTATE - Property Taxes

Folks have been grumbling about the recent increase in real estate assessments in Harrisonburg. I can't imagine why since the average productive person only pays 60-70% of their annual income in some kind of tax.

The complaint seems to be that the city is raising the tax assessed value of our property when the real value has gone down. Now, the first mistake we make is to believe that assessed value is what your home is really worth when the objective of the real estate tax system is to generate income for the city and not evaluate property. The system is suppose to be a fair way of taxing citizens according to their wealth so if your house is assessed at 10% more than its actual value, that is ok as long as every other property owner has an equally overvalued assessment.

I think we sometimes become so irritated by this property tax process that we don't see the real problem with our city government and that is spending. If the city didn't spend so much money, our taxes wouldn't be so high. Let's concentrate our concerns more on the spending side of the city budget and less on this irrational assessment process.


The 5 and Dime - BBQ


I believe my husband concocted The Atkins Diet but if I am incorrect, I am here to testify that he certainly espouses the idea. Several weeks ago he decided to have a backyard bbq cookout and he invited a few friends and family. The number of eaters attending was never deemed an important issue but Steve calculated somewhere between 20-30 people. That sounded totally reasonable since that was the approximate size of the group last year.

At this point I must make it perfectly clear that the group was not comprised of all males but rather more females and no where in the crowd was there even one Washington
Redskin "hog". That said, when his bbq crew ( see picture and please note the size of the grill) arrived to begin cooking this is how they must have reconciled the question, "How much meat should we buy?"

Barb: "Steve, I am at Costco to buy the ribs but how many do you think we need. They weigh about 8 pounds per pack. Two packs?"
Steve: "No, I don't think that will be enough."

Barb: "OK, well how about 3?"

Steve: "You know everyone loves the ribs so maybe we should get more of them."

Barb: "But I thought you said we were only expecting 20-30 people."

Steve: "That is probably right but you never know so maybe we should pick up 6 packs."

Barb, who is now quietly wondering if he has lost his mind replies: "Whatever you say boss."

Now Blake, bless his little heart, goes along with the grill sergeant (see picture - Steve) not because he is the boss but only because Blake is also a M-A-N and meat
and men go together like a horse and buggy. If the truth be known, Steve and Blake had probably said to one another earlier, "Well, we might as well load up this lil pup (grill) with all the meat it will hold cuz everyone loves meat."

It seems to me that a man's governing action when bbqing (is that a real word?) is meat for everyone and lets us just disregard the other food groups because Mr. Atkins said so. Now don't misinterpret what I am stating, by no means am I a vegetarian, I love meat just like the next guy.

The bbq was a tremendous success, the meat melted in your mouth and was succulent and spicy. Perhaps one of the best meals I have had.

By nightfall when calm was restored and we reflected on the evening we arrived at these stats from the event. Seventy-two pounds of ribs, chicken and pork butt to feed twenty-two people. Yep, you read it correctly. I think if you do the math that comes to approximately 3.272727 pounds of meat per person. That sounds reasonable don't you think?

Mr. Atkins, Steve did you proud and I think you should honor him in your next diet cookbook. You can reach him, along with his pit crew at 540-746-.........

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The 5 and Dime - Bread Maniac


Thanks for taking a peek at the beginning of my journey to master bread baking.
I am attempting to make whole wheat pita bread along with other whole grain breads.

Peter Reinhart's cookbook, Whole Grain Breads, has created visions of bread loaves that dance through my head. However, he has also been the perpetrator of my bread frustration, bread obsession and occasional bread success = bread mania!

On May 18th, Carolyn Frank, my friend and co-maniac, and I traveled to Richmond to attend a cooking class with Mr. Reinhart. It was an exciting opportunity to quiz the expert and I will share some of his great ideas with you in my next post but meanwhile, I invite all suggestions and guidance be shared with me at this site.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

The 5 and Dime - Overview

These past few weeks we have been in a quandary lamenting over a name for our new section of the blog. This section will deal with diverse topics such as knitting, cooking, handling elderly mothers, grocery store specials etc. As you can see we have an enormous amount of obscure thoughts floating in our heads that we are eager to express. We only trust that you are eager to read and react to them.

Our task was to arrive at a name that was short, clever, engaging and one that adequately defined the category. Many names were thrown out such as Peek a Boo, A la Carte, The Ben Franklin Store, Multifariousness and others. Finally today however we both decided on "The 5 and Dime". Do you remember the variety stores known as Ben Franklin or also the 5 and dime? So now we have it and we can begin a weekly posting here. The first one will be about bread making and will be published within the next few days.


< 6 Degrees

Melvin Jones was the founder in 1917 of this organization. There are over 44,500 clubs, more than 1.3 million members in 203 countries in the world. All funds raised by this club from the public are used for charitable purposes while administrative costs are paid for by members. In 1925 at Cedar Point, Ohio, Helen Keller addressed the convention and charged these folks to be "Knights of the Blind".

MEET Philip and Penny Sharpe. Phil forgets exactly how long he has been a LION but it is somewhere between 35-40 years. These years of service as well as their 47 year marriage is extraordinary at the least. Although Phil had a full time job as an Accountant and Penny as a Data Processing Manager they continually offered themselves, of their own free will, to service for the Lions Club. How many degrees separate you from the Sharpes?

In July, as has been the way for many years, they will head to Wise County in Southwest Virginia to work for the week preparing meals for some 1,000 - 1,500 volunteers for the RAM project. RAM, The Remote Area Medical Expedition, annually
heads to the Wise County Fairgrounds to provide the underpriviledged citizens of Appalachia free medical services. Although the services are offered for two and a half days, the food team must work for the week in order to complete their tasks.
It is estimated the medical team performs somewhere between 6 - 7,000 encounters at a cost of over $1.5 million for the care.

So today we thank everyone involved in this endeavor. My admiration for Phil, Penny and the others is huge and I sing your praises for your humble hearts.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

< 6 Degrees

Winston Churchill, adored cats. Churchill used to refer to his cat, Jock, as his special assistant because Jock attended many war-time Cabinet meetings along side Churchill. It is even believed that Jock was on the bed with his master on the day the great British statesman died.

MEET James Guest, born in London and educated as a General Contractor. In 1993 he moved to Florida as a temporary stop for an American experience on his way to Asia however he never made it out of the U.S. There he met and married "a wonderful woman" who became his wife, Cara Meixner. How man degrees separate you from James?

In 2007 Cara accepted a job at JMU and began working here however the job situation was not as easy for James. While strolling downtown he noticed a sign in a store front looking for help to renovate the space. He "poked his head in" and offered to assist. There he volunteered his time and knowledge for completing the interior design work and supervising the construction of what is now the new home for Cat's Cradle. With no job possibilities on the horizon he returned to Florida where his contracting business was prospering. For 2 years James and Cara survived a long distance marriage but in January 2010 he wrapped up his business in Florida and decided to move here permanently. Currently James is working on a variety of jobs and is grateful for the work. Most especially he is grateful to be living full time with his wife once again.

James is a skilled contractor, eager to do excellent work at a fair price and in a timely fashion. We wish you the very best here and hope we can help to build your business from your own credentials.

Our BIG Garden

There is something very fulfilling as well as mystical when you harvest vegetables from your own garden.

On April 9th & 10th we placed what appeared to be minute, insignificant seeds under an inch of amended soil. We questioned whether our bounty would fill a paper lunch sack or a 30 gallon bag and the anticipation of what would come grew more intense as the days slipped by.

Now today, after having escaped the last of May freezes in our area we are gathering tender, succulent spinach and lettuces. It seems almost ethereal to dine on food that grew from the sweat and toil of your own hands.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Real Estate - Summer of ' 63

Franklin Street was the best place to be in 1963. It was a time when folks did not hide out behind privacy fences on backyard patios because we had front porches. Who needs Facebook when you can just sit there and have your own social network as neighbors stop by to share the news on their way home. It was always my first stop when I came home from work and the last place to wind down before going to bed.

You just sit there, in a big rocker or on the swing and enjoyed the best part of the day. You could see a whole block and you knew who was at home because they were on their porch too. When you walked downtown, to stores, theaters, the library, bowling alley, restaurants or Klines Frozen Custard, you saw everyone else on their porch and you stopped to chat or at least waved. You knew who was from the neighborhood and who wasn't, who had company or who was alone. You checked on your neighbors and they checked on you.

I suppose neighborhoods have evolved beyond the porch stage since we now have central air, 150 channels and the internet to keep us occupied. On nights like tonight though, when I am sitting on my private deck, shopping on Ebay, I think about that Franklin Street porch and the summer of '63.

Jim Acker

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

< 6 Degrees

What animal only sleeps between 10 minutes to 2 hours a day?
This is a ruminant, quadruped African animal.
When I asked this man this question he was QUICK to respond with the correct answer, the giraffe.

MEET Mack Orebaugh. He graduated from JMU with an MS in Education in 1973. He doesn't admit whether his birthplace is West Va. or Va. but we all know that if he lived in Arizona they would have checked his papers by now. Partially named after Connie Mack, one time owner of the Philadelphia A's, his sister carries the name Connie while Mack claims the latter. In his earlier years he coached at McLean High School where he coached Connie Mack's great-great grandson, named none other than, Connie

A highlight of Mack's (not to be confused with Connie Mack) career was when he ran a baseball program in Newfoundland between 1983-1993. Mack currently works at the RMH Wellness Center and can be found sharply at 5:15am greeting us with a hearty "Good Morning" during the week.

Interested in everyone, he engages in conversation learning about others as well as sharing trivia in hopes to expand our knowledge. When asked what he enjoyed most about his job he responded, "The knowledge I gain each morning from others, getting away from my mom and watching Stormi walk by every morning at 8:15."

How many degrees separate you from this man? Thank you Mack for brightening up our mornings at the gym, for your wonderful sense of humor and most especially for making each of us feel important. I have one more question for you before I end however, how many stomachs does a cow have? I will bet you Mack knows!