Friday, February 26, 2010

Earthsong Teen Meditation Retreat

~ The following was published in The Floyd Press, July 31, 2008

Summer camp is an all-American tradition for many teens. But what kind of camp teaches kindness as part of its curriculum, or instructs campers to disconnect from their high-tech, high paced lives in order to sit still and listen?

At the second annual Earthsong Teen Meditation Retreat teenagers from Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Connecticut, Maine, and all over Virginia agreed to undertake five prerequisite commitments, one of which was to speak truthfully and kindly. They learned sitting and walking meditation skills and were given the opportunity to explore yoga, martial arts, visual and performance arts, primitive life skills, and to participate in a traditional Native American sweat lodge ceremony.

Hosted by Earthsong Farm and Retreat in Patrick County, Virginia, the week long event was held July 6 - 12 at a camp adjacent to Earthsong, thirty minutes from downtown Floyd. Rolling green meadows dotted with cabins, a pavilion, a large room for gathering, wooded pathways, and a nearby creek set the stage for a teen camp experience with retreat as its focus.

The founder of Earthsong, Maury Cooke, is an entrepreneur from Portsmouth, Virginia, who heads up The Center for Community Development, a non-profit organization that promotes affordable housing, arts and culture, and microenterprise. After the death of his son in a car accident, Cooke, a longtime meditater, vowed to find a way to mentor youth. When he met Erin Hill, a teen meditation teacher from California, and was inspired by her to attend a meditation retreat, he knew he had found the way.

For the Virginia retreat, teachers skilled at working with teens were flown in from California and Ohio. They included Hill, Tempel Smith, Marvin Beltzer, and Jason Murphy (CSAC). Smith has lived as a monk in Burma. Belzer, a Professor of Philosophy, helped develop youth retreats at the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts. Other teachers included twenty-nine year old Jessica Morey, who began practicing meditation at the age of fourteen at the Insight Meditation Society, and Joe Klein, LPC, who also helped to organize and managed the retreat. Assistant teachers were drawn from Floyd and surrounding areas and included Alan Forrest, head of Counselor Education at Radford University. Commenting on the retreat Forrest said, "What was amazing is that it was a transformative experience not just for the teens but also for the staff."

In some ways the retreat resembled any other summer camp experience. Friendships were formed. Guitars were played around an open fire. But rather than the traditional marshmallows being roasted, teens munched on wild berry cobbler and other locally grown food. Teachers gave nightly talks. Teens were encouraged to use "wise speech," and periods of silence were observed at designated times throughout the day.

The meditation techniques introduced to the teens were drawn from the Vipassana tradition, an ancient practice of self observation where attention to the breath is used to anchor the mind in the present. Vipassana, a Sanskrit word for "insight," is sometimes referred to as "mindfulness." The Teen Meditation Retreat brochure reads: "Meditation clears the mind, allows a sense of calm, and supports more appreciation and happiness. It is an avenue that empowers by allowing more control of our states of mind and emotions."

"We're giving kids skills to maintain their own mental, physical, and spiritual health," said Klein. "They're learning to practice loving kindness towards themselves as well as towards others," he added.

Even mealtimes at the retreat provided opportunities to practice mindfulness, as teens were encouraged to slow down while eating and guess the ingredients of the chef's savory nightly soups. Clean-up was also encouraged to be done with mindful concentration.

Although developing meditation skills was the primary focus of the retreat, several of the sixteen teens who participated expressed their appreciation for the daily inclusion of small discussion groups, where feelings were expressed, barriers broke down, and the challenges of group dynamics were explored.

"At first I was sort of shy and then I started to warm up," said Devin Deerheat Gamache. Gamache, who grew up in Floyd but now lives in Arkansas, attended last year's retreat and returned this year. He credited a small group game called "If you really knew me, you'd know that ..." for helping him quickly forge friendships. Liota Weinbaum, another retreater, said the small groups were "a unique social situation where relationships got more real and meaningful."

The retreat culminated in a spirited Community Sharing the night before the end of the retreat. After dinner teens and teachers shared poetry, songs, drumming, and dancing in an open mic atmosphere. They also presented theatrical performances, learned in workshops throughout the week.

At an Appreciation Circle the next morning, feelings of gratitude were verbalized. One teen described the retreat as "the single best week of my life." Another remarked that he enjoyed learning drumming and how to use poi lights (a string of LED glow lights that change colors and make a light show when swung at night). Others used the forum to voice gratitude for what they had learned and to thank the adults for making the retreat happen.

As the week wound to a close, goodbyes were exchanged with humor, hugs, and emotion. Many of the teens expressed enthusiasm for coming back to next retreat. "Everyone here was so loving. I just felt loved," said fifteen year old Maya Matlack before heading back to her home in Pennsylvania. ~ Colleen Redman

Post Notes:
Read an article on the retreat that appeared in the Roanoke Times HERE and one from The Virginian Pilot, written by a recent high school graduate who participated in the retreat HERE. The Virginian Pilot also did a July 12th feature on Maury Cooke, which appears as an excerpt HERE. More information on teen retreats is HERE. The above was originally posted on Loose Leaf Notes on August 25, 2008.

Monday, February 15, 2010

FloydFest is a Family Affair

The following appeared in the Floyd Press on July 24, 2008 and also online HERE.

The theme of this year’s Floydfest, “A Family Affair,” came about at the end of last year’s festival when festival co-founder Kris Hodges realized that everyone involved – patrons, volunteers, staff, and vendors – felt like family.

But the feeling of family extends beyond the 400 yearly volunteers, the 40 paid event staff, and others who work together to make the summer music festival a success. The theme, which takes its name from the popular 70’s song by Sly and the Family Stone, is a reflection of Hodges’ overview of the event, held off the Blue Ridge Parkway this July 24 – 27. “It’s a celebration of tolerance for each other, all of us sharing this planet,” he said.

His partner and co-founder, Erika Johnson said her appreciation for the theme was reinforced by a recent Tom Petty concert she attended at a large venue in Raleigh, North Carolina. The event was ruined for her by the impersonal nature of the venue and the rowdy drinking behavior of the packed-in crowd. “For the same amount of money, you could come to Floyd Fest for the weekend,” Hodges noted.

Floyd Fest, about to begin its seventh year, is older than Hodges and Johnson’s daughter Chloe. In keeping with the family theme, this year will be the first that the six year old will be attending all four days of the festival with her ten year old brother, Tristen,” her mother said.

With Chloe on her lap, Johnson pointed out the new playground in the Children’s Universe, built by the Pennsylvanian Amish as an ark. Pointing out the building expansion project at the dance tent site, she explained that each year festival-goers are encouraged with the chance to win free tickets to fill out a survey listing what they liked about the festival and what they would like to see at future events. A bigger dance floor was at the top of the list.

“We’re doubling the dance space,” said Bob Forman, a FloydFest staff member who was onsite to work on the project.

Another new FloydFest feature, added for the enjoyment of children and adults alike, is a trapeze. Run by the Trapeze Academy, the event is an interactive one and will have a central location, overlooking Hill Holler Stage. “It takes you up sixty feet and you can learn how to flip,” said Johnson.

Although the festival continues to offer a range of children’s activities, healing arts, a contained beer and wine garden, a variety of vending tents for food, arts, and crafts; the main focus remains the same. “This festival is for music lovers,” Hodges said.

Headliners this year include the return of FloydFest favorite, Donna the Buffalo, along with Railroad Earth, Tea Leaf Green, The David Grisman Quintet, Golem, Ivan Neville, the Avett Brothers, and Amos Lee; who Hodges says has been likened to Bob Dylan. Bands will be coming from San Francisco and Brooklyn and everywhere in between.

“Virginia bands are well represented,” Hodges said. He listed Roanoke, Blacksburg, Richmond, and Charlottesville as regional areas the bands will be coming from. No Speed Limit, a bluegrass band from Galax, described on the FloyFest webpage ( as “in the fast lane in regards to their musical careers,” will be performing. Floyd musicians on the roster include Mac and Jenny Traynham, and The Aliens. Floyd’s Starroot will return to the Children’s Universe with her band Somersault.

Hodges is particularly excited about the festival’s emerging artist series. Thirty-five musical acts from nearby and around the country will compete for an audience choice vote. The winner will return next year for a main stage performance. The audience favorite will also receive $1,000, recording time at Red Room Studio in Roanoke, and $500 to spend on marketing merchandise to be sold at the FloydFest store, Hodges explained.

With thousands of festival-goers camping and gathering on the sprawling festival site, with seven stages for four days of nonstop music, and a village of vending tents, FloydFest is a big undertaking. “We get a lot of help,” Hodges said. “This year the sponsors really stepped up.”

“The Food Lion is providing water and soda. Citizens is hosting the Cyber Café, and local landscaper John Beegle has donated landscaping,” Johnson said.

This year 80 bands will hit the Floyd Fest stages, as compared to 72 last year. Judging by pre-ticket sales, which are up 30% from last year, Hodges and Johnson are enthusiastic.

“People want an intimate, wholesome experience, and FloydFest offers that, Hodges said. “We’re having fun. We feel blessed every day to be doing this,” Johnson added. ~ Colleen Redman

Photos: 1. FloydFest founders Erika Johnson and Kris Hodges with their daughter Chloe at the festival site. 2. Flowers in the Beer Garden ready for landscaping, which is headed-up by Barb Gillespie of Floyd. 3. Ongoing questions about whether Pink Floyd will be playing at FloydFest prompted the redesign of the Beer Garden Stage, now known as the Pink Floyd stage. 4. Large stringed instrument sculpture at the festival entrance was made by Floyd metal fabricator Asa Pickford. More photos and fun tales to come… Click HERE and scroll down for past Floyd Fest stories and photos.

~ Originally posted on Loose Leaf Notes on July 25, 2008.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

They Call Floyd a Healing Place

~ The following was published in The Floyd Press on July 10, 2008 and on their online site HERE.

When Rose Cherrix and her son Abraham first participated in the Spoken Word Open Mic at Floyd's Café Del Sol, they received a rousing round of applause when Rose told the crowd that Abraham recently had cancer but was now cancer free. A few in the audience remembered their story. It made national news when, at the age of sixteen, Abraham declined a high-dose round of chemotherapy and radiation and his parents were charged with medical neglect for supporting his decision.

In August of 2005, the Cherrix family was living on Chincoteague Island, Virginia, when Abraham discovered a lump in his neck while working at his computer. After it was determined that he had Hodgkin's disease - cancer of the lymphatic system - he received the standard round of adult chemotherapy. Although the treatment made him very ill, it seemed worth it when he learned the cancer was gone. But two months later it returned. Abraham didn't think he could bear a second stronger round of chemotherapy and the radiation that his oncologist recommended. "I was so weak my father had to carry me," he said about the first round of treatment.

His mother explained that chemotherapy treatment for Hodgkin's disease offers an 80 - 85% chance of recovery, but if the cancer comes back a second time the percentage rate goes way down. "An oncologist testified on our behalf that Abraham's chance of surviving the second round of chemotherapy and the radiation was only 15-25%," she said.

Considering those odds, the Cherrixes did some extensive online research and opted to try an alternative, all-natural treatment. Abraham made two trips to a clinic in Mexico where he received Hoxsey therapy, an herbal tonic that has been banned as a cancer treatment in the U.S. Using the tonic and an improved diet, his strength returned, and he felt hopeful hearing the success stories of others he met at the clinic, he said. But his treatment was interrupted by a court order.

When Abraham's refusal of prescribed treatment was reported to Social Services, a chain of events began that would thrust the Cherrixes in the media spotlight. Rose and Abraham's father, Jay, faced possible jail time after they were found guilty of medical neglect by the Juvenile Court. Abraham was threatened with foster care placement or juvenile detention if he didn't abide by the prescribed treatment. Now the family had two battles to fight - Abraham's cancer and the courts.

"On the day we were ordered to deliver Abraham to the Children's Hospital in Norfolk, to do whatever they said, we were in Circuit Court with an appeal. The judge approved the appeal. A week later we won the case," Rose remembered.

Meanwhile, Abraham became a patient of Dr. Smith, an oncologist in Mississippi who uses a combination of alternative and standard cancer treatments, including Immunotherapy, a therapy that involves stimulating a patient's immune system to attack malignant tumor cells. The authorities were comfortable knowing Abraham was being treated by a U.S. oncologist who was providing treatments with some proven success. The Cherrixes were comfortable with Dr. Smith's approach. They were also pleased with the results. Under Dr. Smith's care, Abraham has been cancer free for over a year.

Abraham's illness and the court battles that followed took a heavy toll on the Cherrix family. They lost their home, their kayak tour business, and Rose's marriage to Abraham's father fell apart. But as bad as things were, many people came forward to offer support and kindness. "We got to see the good in the world and the genuine caring of so many," Rose stressed.

One of the people who came to the Cherrix's aid was a woman that Rose refers to as "our angel." Sharon Smith, a private citizen who the Cherrixes didn't know beforehand, was so inspired by their story that she contacted them to offer help. "She found Dr. Smith (no relation), our attorneys, handled the media, and put herself on the line financially, Rose said.

Elizabeth Simpson, a newspaper reporter for the Virginian-Pilot, played a key role in bringing attention to the Cherrix's plight for health care freedom, and she still keeps in touch with the family. The local radio station also got involved. "Without the media I don't think we could have done it," Abraham said.

State and local government also came to the Cherrix's aid. Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonald filed a brief to the Circuit Court in support of the Cherrix's right of appeal and allowing time for it to play out. Virginia Beach Delegate John Welch III made a statement quoted in the Associated Press, saying Abraham's parents were "fiercely devoted to their son, and have fully dedicated the family's resources to helping him get well." Believing that the medical community had "no reason to take over parental rights," he drafted a bill bearing Abraham's name that would allow children fourteen and over to help make their own medical choices.
"Abraham's Law" was passed by the General Assembly in 2007 and signed into law by Governor Kaine. Abraham spoke on his own behalf at a congressional hearing in Richmond in the lead-up to the bill being passed.

Neither Rose nor Abraham hold any grudges related to their ordeal. "We tried to concentrate on making something good come from something bad," Rose said. Abraham is able to find humor and irony in what he has been through. "It was the most fun time of my life. I like to meet new people. I took my first plane ride, a cross country bus trip, and went to a foreign country," he joked.

The Cherrixes landed in Floyd in the spring of 2007 by way of an unlikely sequence of events. After losing their home, Rose began looking online for rentals. She needed something affordable and large enough to raise her five children, two of whom have autism. While online, she was browsing through emails on Abraham's website, a site dedicated to sharing health information and providing updates on Abraham's progress. Rose explained that she and Abraham had to stop reading the emails because there were so many. But on that day, a name caught her eye. Because Abraham's full name is Starchild Abraham Cherrix, she felt an affinity when she saw another unique name in an email written by a Floyd girl named "Cherub."

Abraham and Cherub became friends and when Rose discovered a rental listing for a farmhouse off Route 8 in Floyd, she asked Cherub's mother, Linda Kearn, to check it out. The roomy size of the house and the natural rural setting seemed a perfect place for the Cherrix family to thrive, and for Abraham to pursue his interests in art and the study of computer engineering.

Abraham and Rose both agree they are in the right place. "We call Floyd a healing place. Everyone has been so welcoming and accepting," Rose said. "People do what the want and no one is criticized for what they believe," added Abraham, who is now receiving holistic health care from Floyd's Dr. Garry Collins.

Mother and son recently returned to the Spoken Word stage to share their original poetry. Another round of applause ensued when Rose announced that Abraham had just turned eighteen. Abraham, who recently added "Dreaming Wolf" to his name, read a poem about a wolf. Rose read a tribute for her son's birthday, titled "Loving You by Letting Go." ... Instead of me giving you strength ... You gave me strength ... When our world was falling apart ... You were there for me ... Loving me - holding me ... So wise beyond your years ... Yet so much to learn still ... she read.

An eighteenth birthday is a milestone in any young person's life. In Abraham's case it's especially true. "I guess I got smarter overnight," he joked, referring to his newfound freedom to legally make his own health care choices. "Age is not the issue. Health care choice should be based on maturity level," he added. ~ Colleen Redman

Note: More about Abraham and his mother at the Spoken Word Open Mic in Floyd is HERE. This entry was originally posted on Loose Leaf Notes on July 14, 2008.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Local Brethren Churches Celebrate 300th Year Anniversary

~ The following was published in the Floyd Press on 6/19/08

Thirteen branches were represented at the 300th year anniversary celebration of the Brethren Church, which was founded in Germany in 1708. The event took place at the Beaver Creek Church of the Brethren on Saturday and drew a full house of church members and guests. It was the first social event held in the church’s recently built Social Hall.

Members of the church dressed in period clothing, in styles that dated back to 1790 when Brethren from Pennsylvania first settled on the land that is known today as Floyd County. Event tables showcased historical church items, some of which were provided by Beaver Creek Brethren church member Donna (Spangler) Graham.

Graham lives in the house that once belonged to her grandparents. The house remains home to a number of family heirlooms. She pointed out an antique church songbook that had her grandmother’s name, Clara B. Vest, inscribed in it. It was a gift given to her grandmother by her grandfather prior to their marriage in 1919. Graham said her grandfather, Herman Spangler, preached at several Floyd Brethren churches, including the original Beaver Creek church, which moved to the current Ridgeview Road location in 1945. Among Graham’s collection of church memorabilia was a photo of a past congregation of men in front of the old Beaver Creek church. There was also a small bell she remembered as a child being rung when it was time for church to start.

Lester and Judy Weddle began the scheduled musical entertainment, leading the group in song. Judy Weddle is the daughter of a previous Brethren church pastor.

Guest speaker at the themed celebration was District Executive David Shumate. Mixing humor, prayer, and storytelling, Shumate spoke on the history of the church and on his own Floyd roots. He noted that Floyd has the distinction of being the first to allow English speaking members into the Brethren church in large numbers, which was considered very liberal in 1800.

~ Originally posted on loose leaf notes on July 2, 2008.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Stand Up For Strays

~ The Following was published in the Floyd Press on June 12, 2008

Floyd County’s chapter of the Humane Society was founded in 1999 by the late Aletha Pearson. An earlier version of the chapter existed during the 80’s but was short lived. In the nine years that the current chapter has been active, the group has accomplished much, heightening community awareness of responsible ownership of pets, promoting the neutering/spaying of pets, and facilitating adoptions of homeless cats and dogs.

At the Society’s annual Stand up for Strays event, held at the Cross Creek Complex this past Saturday, Michele Harvell, a longtime Humane Society member, explained that the event is a fundraiser that also serves as community outreach.

Under the shade of the adoption tent, where four dogs needing homes were in cages, Harvell explained how the group takes animals from the pound and places them in foster homes until they can find adoptive families.

The all volunteer, donation supported group, which has about fifteen active members, meets at the New River Community Action Center at 6:30 P.M. on the second and forth Tuesday of each month. “We get great support from the community – cat food, dog food, and other donations,” Harvell said. She and her daughter Sarah brought two of their dogs from home. One, a dwarf dachshund named Anna was rescued by the Harvells when it was discovered that the dog was about to be dumped.

Sunny Bernardine, who was dubbed by Aletha Pearson as a Humane Society “life time member,” currently has four personal dogs and four fosters, she said. Two of her foster dogs, a white Brittany mix and a Catahoula, were at the event looking for adoption prospects. When Bernardine was asked if she had help caring for so many dogs, she joked, “I need help!” The Humane Society has built a total of four roofed kennels on Bernardine’s property.

Music played as event goers browsed through the yard sale tent or enjoyed a hot dog. Some blew bubbles at the Games Tent. A dog was being washed in a tub of flea and tick dip. Darcie Luster, the current Humane Society president, was spritzing water on young kittens that were wilting in the 90 degree heat.

Two Girl Scout volunteers, Denise Schmeitzel and Hannah Ballinger, ran a raffle booth. They were happy to rattle off possible prizes to passersby. Prizes included a Floyd Fest ticket, A Hokie game ticket, and some original art. When Ballinger was asked if she was a Human Society member, she smiled and said, “I’m going to be when I grow up.” ~ Colleen Redman

Post Notes: Michele Harvell is pictured in the first photo, petting Sunny Bernardine's foster dogs who are in need of a permanent home. For more information on the Humane Society, you can visit their website HERE.

~ This entry was originally posted on Loose Leaf Notes on June 16, 2008.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Wiggle Jiggle Jamboree at the Floyd Country Store

The following was published in the Floyd Press on May 15, 2008

We all work together with a giggle and a grin. With a wiggle and a giggle and a google and a goggle and a jigger and a jagger and a giggle and a grin. ~ Woody Guthrie

It was a jamboree of a different kind at the Floyd Country Store this past Saturday morning when kids from all over the county took to the dance floor to wiggle and giggle to the music of Kari Kovick. Some were students of Kovick’s Early Childhood Music Program. Others came with their parents for the morning’s interactive concert and joined in the infectious fun. Kovick was accompanied by her band, Windfall, which features Dave Fason on banjo and guitar, Rusty May on acoustic bass, and her husband Michael Kovick on fiddle and harmonica.

Known for her angelic singing voice and her engaging stage presence, Kovick also plays guitar. When babies and young children are in the audience she knows how to tune into them and turn up the volume of fun.

“We didn’t get enough snow this winter, so we made some of our own,” Kovick said from the stage before producing two large bags full of fluffy white balls and emptying them onto the dance floor. She hopped down from the stage, and a snowball fight ensued to the tune of an old time jig played intermittently by Windfall. Every time the band stopped playing, the dancers froze in their places.

Other interactive songs included a tickle game, which parents participated in, and a two part harmony between children in the role of crows and others acting as songbirds. Community is important to Kovick. “Music is a fun way to bring us all together,” she said. She closed the hour-long show with a lullaby, with those who knew the words singing along.snowballs3.jpg

A round of applause was given for the concert sponsors, The Community Foundation of the New River Valley and the Floyd Foundation, when Kovick cited their involvement. Thanks also went to Jackie and Woody Crenshaw for providing the space for musicians and dancers of all ages.

When not doing children’s music, the acoustic quartet plays folk, blues, rock, Celtic, as well as old time and bluegrass standards. There website is HERE. ~ Colleen Redman

~ Originally posted on Loose Leaf Notes on May 30, 2008.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Mother’s Day Farm Tour

The following was published in The Floyd Press on May 15, 2008.

The rain didn’t deter garden lovers from participating in the Mother’s Day Farm Tour at Full Circle and Five Penny Farms in Floyd this past Sunday. Traffic up and down the long dirt driveway into Full Circle Farm for the open house event was steady in spite of weather.

The Farm Tour, now in its 4th year, has been growing in attendance each year. “We had about two hundred visitors last year,” said Tenley Weaver (pictured in blue shirt and boots). Weaver runs the certified organic farm off Spangler Mill Road with her partner, Dennis Dove. “I grow the flowers and herbs and Dennis does the vegetables,” she said.

It seems that flowers and garden greenery go hand in hand with Mother’s Day. One family shopping for plants traveled up to Floyd from Roanoke after meeting Dove recently at the Roanoke Natural Food Store and hearing about the Farm Tour from him. Enjoying their Mother’s Day outing, the family was purchasing plant seedlings for their garden. “We’re trying to go organic,” the mother said.

Weaver and Dove are not only full-time market growers; they operate Good Food-Good People, a local fresh produce distributing network. “It’s a private cooperative business,” Weaver said. “We represent twenty-five to thirty growers from the backyard farmer to bigger farms. We wholesale to restaurants in Blacksburg, Roanoke, the New River Valley, on the Parkway, and to health food stores,” she explained.

The Full Circle Farm Tour featured several large greenhouses filled with flowers, herbs, and vegetables starts. Booth displays of local products overlooked rows of growing greens and included those from Weathertop Farms, Brights Farm and Chef Natasha Shishkevish. A horse pull activity was canceled because of the rain, but Abe Goorsky played fiddle in the early part of the day, Weaver reported.

Pointing out pots of pineapple and tangerine sage, Weaver broke a leaf off from one of the plants to release its aroma. “It’s not like turkey sage,” she said. “It’s used for culinary purposes and it makes a nice tea,” she added. Everything grown on the Full Circle Farm is edible, even the flowers. There were pansies, nasturtiums, snap dragons, and calendula.

“My goal is to grow every culinary herb that any chef could want,” Weaver said. She also runs Greens Garage, which provides local products to the neighborhood and to word-of-mouth traffic. The Garage, described by Weaver as “a farm stand and more,” is open year-round and sells fresh organic and biologically-grown vegetables, local free range and grass fed beef and pork, local honey, fresh eggs, regional cheeses, and more.

When asked if there’s ever a lull in the farm work, Weaver said, “It never slows down.” In the winter months she focuses on sales and marketing, and “lots of meetings” to coordinate with GFGP members who will be growing what in the upcoming year.

The sun broke out in the afternoon. At Five Penny Farm on Thomas Farm Road, two musicians performed on the deck of the wooden building that will soon house “The Shooting Creek Brewery.” The Brewery, on the Blue Ridge Wine Trail, has a planned grand opening in June, said farm owner Johanna Nichols. The farm, now in its fourth year of operation, is certified organic.

Children played on the grounds, a dog stretched out on the grass, and shoppers mulled through the hanging baskets of flowers and trays of leafy green farm grown plants. Some of the Farm Tour goers strolled up and down the rows of growing hop plants. The plants, prickly vines climbing up a string pole fence, will be used in special seasonal brews, Five Penny co-owner Brett Nichols said. ~ Colleen Redman

Note: The first two photos were taken at Full Circle Farm and the second two at Five Penny Farm. The above was first published on Loose Leaf Notes on May 12, 2008.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

New Day News

~ The following was published in the Floyd Press on May 1, 2008.

Rosemary Wyman's business, New Day, has been providing home health care and support to individuals and their families since 2005. The business is a natural extension of a life long interest of Wyman's.

"Whenever I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would always say a nurse," Wyman, a tomboy who grew up in New York, said. "The only reason I played with dolls was to use them as patients," she added.

Wyman and her family moved to Floyd from Charlotte, North Carolina in 1999. She and her husband, Walter Charnley, have been parents to eight in a blended family that Wyman refers to as, "his, mine, and ours."

Certified in hospice and as a palliative nurse assistant, Wyman has extensive experience with end of life care and has been educating others about this life passage. She's worked for Good Samaritan Hospice in Roanoke and has done fill-in work at The Beulah Hospice House in Dublin. Although she's provided care to a number of Alzheimer patients - including her own father - and has a special interest in the needs of the aging population, not all her clients are elderly. Last year Wyman provided care for two young women with terminal illnesses.

Tom Vangunten, who lost his wife, Laura, to cancer last fall thinks the contribution Wyman makes is "invaluable." Like Wyman, he believes people would benefit from more education and preparation for end of life.

"We don't prepare for death. I can't believe I got to be forty-nine and didn't know a thing about this. I think grief and loss should be taught in school along with Driver's Ed and how to balance your check book," he said.

Vangunten, who is now a single parent to his and his wife's two young sons, explains how the support Wyman offered was for the whole family. "For people dealing with terminal illness, it affects everyone in your family. It's helpful if you have someone who can guide you through it. What Rosemary did was invaluable. She coordinated with doctors and other care givers, and provided the personal. What ever needed to be done - if someone needed a hug - she stepped-up," he said.

Many families dealing with the terminal illness of a loved one need more support than the one or two hours a day a hospice worker provides. New Day can offer what Wyman refers to as "hospice support." While she gives direct care to clients - which might include bathing, wound dressing, and assisting with pain management - much of Wyman's work is more subtle than that. Her presence often has a calming effect because she accepts people from where they are and can approach each new situation without family history, she says. "Sometimes things not being addressed can be addressed easier with someone outside the family. I like to go in like a breath of fresh air."

Not all of Wyman's clients are dealing with a terminal illness. Riner resident, Betty Bowman has a handicap that inhibits her balance and mobility. Wyman visits her one day a week to clean, organize, assist with personal care and grooming, and whatever else Bowman needs.

"She takes me to the doctor and the grocery store," Bowman said. When asked if Wyman helps with cooking, Bowman explained that since her mother died four years ago she's been heating up frozen dinners in the microwave for herself; although she did remember a delicious bean salad that Wyman prepared from a recipe Bowman provided.

"Cleaning and cooking equal care. Whatever makes someone feel better is care," Wyman said, recalling a day she spent washing one client's entire knick knack collection. "Sometimes people feel better when their homes are clean and their lives are organized," she added.

Since the inception of New Day, Wyman has worked with approximately twenty clients. Some have been referred to her by other agencies, but most come by word of mouth. Although she provides services considered typical in her field, sometimes her work involves the unusual and requires some on the spot problem solving.

On one such occasion, she was flown to NY to transport a local family's elderly aunt, who had broken an ankle and was in rehab, back to Floyd. Upon arriving in New York and after locating the woman's apartment, Wyman packed a month's worth of whatever she thought the woman might need. She then negotiated the transport, first with rehab staff, and then with overzealous airport security, all the while reassuring the woman - who didn't know Wyman - that everything was okay. Her short term memory was failing but "she had a great sense of humor," Wyman remembered.

Support for care givers is an important component of Wyman's work. In 2004, after being approached by Our Lady of the Valley, an assisted Living and Nursing Care facility in Roanoke, Wyman presented an "Intuitive Emotional Clearing" workshop for care givers that involved guiding them through the use of creative outlets, such as music, art, and movement. Wyman has also facilitated the formation of a "Share the Care" circle in Floyd, based on the book of the same name. She says when she first saw the book, which outlines a step-by-step model for organizing group care for someone ill, she knew it was "the wave of the future."

Another aspect of the educational side of Wyman's work played out when she participated in a day long event called "Successful Elder Care," hosted by the Social Justice Committee of the Lutheran Churches of Floyd. She had planned to share a presentation about home assessment for people with limitations, something she and her husband do together, but ended up talking about Alzheimer care when another workshop leader who was scheduled to do that was unable to attend. Wyman remembers a fellow-presenter at the event who cited a Virginia Tech study on the growing needs of the aging population. "It was sobering," she remarked.

Following her involvement in the Zion Lutheran Church day of resource sharing, Wyman embarked on a new venture, "End of Life Development," with the intention of building on the educational outreach aspect of her work. Immediate plans include the formation of an advisory board made up of various professionals, social workers, doctors, clergy, and nurses - to determine what the greatest needs are for the aging population, she says. She also envisions workshops on how to manage progressive care, advance medical directives, and to set up proxy care for decision making. "Plans should be made before we are in crisis," she said.

Last month Wyman received non-profit status as a subsidy of the Community Educational Resource Cooperative (CERC) for "End of Life Development," along with a small seed grant. This support will be instrumental in assisting her educational initiatives in the community. It will also be helpful in allowing her do what she does best: easing the discomfort and grief of others and making it more viable for individuals at the end of life to remain home with their loved ones. "I consider every day spent at home a success. And sometimes you have to count these successes in days," Wyman says. ~ Colleen Redman

~ Originally posted on Loose Leaf Notes on May 10, 2008.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Specialty Gardens: Making Dreams Come True

The following appeared in the All About Her regional newspaper insert on May 1, 2008.

Appreciating nature in our own backyard can be a first step to being a good steward of the earth. Pam Cadmus, owner of Specialty Garden Design, wants more people to enjoy their home surroundings. “We don’t love our habitat enough,” she said.

Sitting on a white wooden bench in the front yard of her Floyd County home, daffodils and hellebores were in bloom as she explained the evolution of her landscaping business.

Raised in New York, Pam moved from California to Floyd in 1978. “I wanted to be part of a community and to take care of myself in a real way,” she said. Soon she was growing vegetables and chopping wood.

In 1979 Pam became the branch librarian of the Floyd library when it was housed in the basement of the Floyd County courthouse. Her job as librarian continued after the move to the new Jessie Peterman Memorial Library building. She also served as librarian in Blacksburg for four years, and is currently on the board of the Floyd County Library Building Fund, which recently oversaw a building expansion.

Pam liked being a librarian, but often found herself looking out the window, dreaming of starting an herb garden or something similar that would allow her to work outside.

In 1997 she created the “Specialty Garden Design” business logo and set about to manifest her dream, one garden at a time. “When I hit fifty, it was do or die,” she said. Initially, she had a partner but became sole owner a couple of years into the business.

It’s easy to see that Pam has a special affection for dwarf conifers, which feature prominently in her home gardens. “They give color, texture, and form all year round,” she said, pointing them out and spouting off the names and varieties like a horticultural whiz. She’s also fond of ornamental grasses and frequently includes them in designs to compliment perennials, flowering trees, and shrubs.

Specialty Garden Design, now in its 11th year, has grown mostly by word of mouth. Although most of Pam’s work is residential, she has designed for local restaurants and an arts and crafts center. She has clients from all over the region, including Blacksburg’s Virginia Tech professor and renowned poet, Nikki Giovanni.

“We work together finding ways to create natural habitats for birds. Nikki loves birds,” Pam said.

According to Pam’s website,, she works closely with the experienced gardener, the novice, and everyone in between. Her work includes designs for small and large properties, ponds, patios, walls, and walkways. She has created formal entrances, English borders, and native landscapes.

In 2002, when Floyd’s Harvest Moon Food Store moved to a new and expanded location, Pam designed and installed showcase gardens on the grounds, working alongside the small crew she employs. A member of the Virginia Society of Landscape Gardens, she was the recipient of the 2005 Town of Blacksburg Award for Design/Landscaping.

The fifteen acre property Pam and her husband have owned since 1982 has about two acres of gardens, including a vegetable plot. She uses slow releasing organic fertilizers and stresses the importance of watering when plants are getting established. When asked about pesticides, she said, “There’s no substitute for getting on your hands and knees and weeding, pulling up weeds at the roots.” She recommends using mulch to control weeds and hold in moisture and has confirmed that a half buried cat food can filled with beer will keep the slug population down. “Slugs like Bud Light and Coors Light, so you can go cheap,” she joked.

Now that she’s 60, Pam is thinking about the next phase of her business plan. She wants to do more design and less installation and hopes to start a nursery of dwarf conifers and ornamental grasses. But she doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. Spring is one of her busiest seasons. At home, she’s moving one garden to make room for an addition to the house and has plans for a wildflower meadow.

Another upcoming project will bring Pam back to the library. Using plants that have been donated by local nurseries, she and another landscaper have volunteered to do the landscaping at the new Jessie Peterman Library addition.

By assisting homeowners to fulfill their visions of creating beautiful surroundings, Pam has made more than her own dream come true. Her talent for enhancing the inherent richness of private and public environments benefits us all, encouraging us to enjoy nature and to spend more time outside. ~ Colleen Redman

~ Originally posted on Loose Leaf Notes on May 5, 2008.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Poets at the Floyd Country Store

This story was published in The Floyd Press on May 1, 2008. It was also featured on the newspaper's website HERE.

"This is getting to be a real good smelling poetry reading,” said visiting poet Jim Webb in reference to the scent of popcorn coming from the front of the Floyd Country Store.

Webb and seven other members of The Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative (SAWC) were at the Country Store Friday afternoon for a round-robin poetry swap with members of the Floyd Writers Circle. The evening before, the visiting writers attended an event at Radford University (RU), celebrating the publication of All There is to Keep, a book of poetry by Rita Riddle, an RU English professor and SAWC member who died of cancer in 2006.

Webb works for Appalshop, a media arts center in Kentucky that produces documentaries, some of which have aired nationally on PBS. He was recording the Floyd readings for Kentucky’s WMMT FM, a mountain community, listener-supported station affiliated with Appalshop.

Floyd Press columnist Fred First, both a member of SAWC and the Floyd Writer’s Circle, hosted the Floyd event. Robert Cumming, Iris Press book publisher from Tennessee, was also present.

Readings of mostly poetry spanned subjects ranging from love and death to farming and tea drinking.

First read an essay from his book, Slow Road Home, about his childhood dread of asparagus. … My parents claimed this was a vegetable. To my mind, this vile substance was never anything more than a green poison created by children-loathing adults on the other side of the Iron Curtain ...

Dana Wildsmith, whose most recent book, One Good Hand, is a reference to her life of alternating farm chores with writing poetry, read a poem called “Southern Love Poem.” … You’re slicker than Talladega, as classic as Gone with the Wind, more hometown than Patty Loveless or REM, sweeter than Iris Dement. How could my heart not be yours? … Wildsmith, a teacher of writing and an ESL instructor from Georgia, authored a poem titled "Making a Living,” which was read on NPR by Garrison Keillor.

Webb, wearing a bright pistachio green shirt with one of his poems printed on it, read an impassioned poem decrying mountaintop removal. He lives on the second highest mountain peak in Kentucky, second in height only to another peak that he can see from his home, which is being strip-mined, he explained. … As close to heaven as you can get … Why doesn’t God complain … Call the cops … he read. Webb told the group, “until they stop mountain removal, I’m going to read this poem at every reading.”

Radford University teacher and former Floyd Countian Jim Minick edited the posthumously published book of Riddle's poetry and hosted the Thursday night book release event at RU. At the Floyd reading, Minick read some of his new poetry that will be included in a soon to be published collection. He spoke of the readings the night before and the impact of hearing SAWC members read Riddle’s poems. Members of SAWC and Iris Press were involved in the publication of All There is to Keep, and many were friends of Riddle.

Chelsea B. Adams, Floyd poet and writing teacher at RU, joined the circle, reading poems that Riddle had commented on when she and Riddle were in the same writers workshop group. Adams is author of Looking for a Landing, and Java Poems.

Other SWAC members attending were Ron Houchin, who has had three poetry books published in the U.S. and Ireland; Felicia Mitchell, a poet and writer who teaches at Emory & Henry College; David Hampton, who teaches high school English in North Carolina; and Beto Cumming, a book designer and editor for Iris Press.

Five members of the Floyd Writer’s Circle who shared their original work included First, Katherine Chantal, Jayn Avery, Mara Robbins, and Colleen Redman.

After the readings, the group mulled around a table display of their books, signing, selling, and trading them with each other. Writing resources and stories also got swapped. The visiting writers had dinner at Oddfellas Cantina and attended the Friday Night Jamboree. ~ Colleen Redman

Post Notes: To learn more about the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative, go to The mission statement on their website states an intention to foster community between Appalachian writers and encourage the publication of their works.

Photos: 1. Beto Cumming reading poetry at the SAWC/Floyd Writers Circle meet-up. 2. Dana Wildsmith reading as (left) Felicia Mitchell and (right) Robert Cumming listen. 3. Jim Webb reads a poem condemning the practice of mountain top removal.

~ Originally posted on Loose Leaf Notes on April 27, 2008.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Flourishing of Arts in Floyd (Part III)

The following is the third and final installment of a story I wrote about our local art scene for a Floyd Press special insert. Part I is HERE. Part II is HERE.

The literary arts also have a presence in Floyd, with a monthly open mic night and at least two writing workshop groups. Poets and writers of all literary styles gather once a month for a Spoken Word Open Mic at the Café Del Sol. Books by local authors can be found in downtown shops, as can an abundance of music CDs. Open mics provide a performing stage for established musicians and writers, and also act as an outreach to those getting started in those arts. Blackwater Loft and Oddfellas Cantina both host monthly open mics, mainly for music.

Some of the venues for the arts in Floyd are seasonal and involve grass, lawn chairs, pavilions, or decks. The Oak Grove Pavilion at the Zion Lutheran Church hosts a summer schedule of music and plays, which are supported by donations that the church passes on to local charities and causes. The Pine Tavern has hosted some well received acts on their outdoor Pavilion stage. Tuggles Gap Motel and Restaurant has a weekend outdoor music series, and Jazz Festivals at Château Morrisette Winery attract crowds from far and wide.

Floyd isn’t just a venue for local musicians. Famous talents have played here. Maria Muldaur performed at the Pine Tavern. Leon Russell has played there and at the Winter Sun. The Country Store has featured Wayne Henderson with Jeff Little, The King Wilkie Band, Ronnie Stoneman of Hee Haw fame, and more. Floyd Fest, a world music festival on 80 acres off the Blue Ridge Parkway, features camping, vending, children’s activities, and six stages for musical performances. The festival, about to begin their 7th year, has helped to secure Floyd’s place on the music map. They welcome community participation, headline well known national and international acts, and feature emerging talent from the region.

Other signs that Floyd is a flourishing community of many artists turn up in unusual places. Outdoor wood sculptures by Charlie Brouwer and Lanny Bean can be found around town. The main desk at the Jessie Peterman Library was carved by Ernest Bryant, whose Celtic mantel fireplace was featured in a story for the Washington Post and a 2004 issue of Fine Homebuilding. The Hotel Floyd, which opened this past fall, enlisted the help the arts community to decorate and furnish their guest rooms and suites. The fourteen theme rooms showcase Floyd culture and art.

The arts in Floyd have come far since The Old Church Gallery paved the way when it opened in 1978. With a focus on cultural arts and local history, the Gallery is about to celebrate their 30th anniversary. Many of the wide range plans that Pauley and others envisioned the Gallery taking on have manifested, either at the Gallery or through other organizations in town.

“The more the merrier. I love it when lots and lots of creative things are going on,” Pauley said. “I never cared who did what, just as long as it got done,” she added.

Instrument makers, fiber artists, jewelers, woodworkers, painters, potters, sculptors, photographers, musicians, writers, and actors have all been attracted to Floyd. The same qualities that drew the first influx of artists in the 1970’s continue to draw talented people today. Today’s Floyd artists enjoy an expanded local appreciation for the arts, a variety of welcoming venues, and a growing interest in Floyd as a creative community that values country life. ~ Colleen Redman

Photos: 1. Spoken Word Open Mic collage. 2. Happy Wanderers, a sculpture by Charlie Brouwer at Over the Moon, inspired by a grade school song and a hike with his grandson.

~ Originally posted on Loose Leaf Notes on April 16, 2008.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Flourishing of Arts in Floyd (Part II)

A Flourishing of Arts in Floyd, Part I is HERE. This story originally appeared in The Floyd Press on March 27, 2008.

Another sign that the arts have grown in the community is Floyd’s active nightlife. Music lovers and fiddle players spilling over into the streets for the Friday Night Jamboree is part of Floyd’s heritage and its music reputation. Held at the Floyd Country Store, the Jamboree has been written about in the Washington Post and other regional and national publications. People from all over the country and the world have attended. Most recently a home schooling family of four red-head girls and three boys from Alaska performed on the Jamboree stage. On the road with their band, The Redhead Express, learning more about Bluegrass music was part of their home schooling curriculum.

“They found us online and asked to play,” Jackie Crenshaw, one of the Floyd Country Store owners said. “They loved seeing the multi-generational mix – adults and little kids – and were especially surprised to see the teenagers here,” she added.

The Jamboree and the County Sales store, renowned for providing an extensive selection of Old Time and Bluegrass recordings since 1965, are two of the good reasons why Floyd is part of the Crooked Road, a 250 mile Heritage Music Trail that winds through the Appalachian region of Southwest Virginia.

Although Floyd’s musical reputation has been built on Old Time and Bluegrass music, on any given weekend night residents and visitors might also hear Reggae, Salsa, Rock and Roll, or Blues. While dancers are flat-footing at the Floyd Country Store, others are dosey-doeing at the monthly Contra Dance held at The Winter Sun Music Hall, or enjoying a jig at Oddfellas’ monthly Irish Night.

The Winter Sun Music Hall, where an African dance troupe and a South American band are promoted and booked from, has played a role in stimulating a cultural exchange of the arts in Floyd. International, national, and regional acts have played on the Winter Sun stage. The Music Hall’s sprawling wood floor is great for dancing or practicing yoga at one of the classes they offer. Part of a complex of businesses housed in an old renovated textile factory building, the Music Hall has hosted a Halloween costume party, several benefits, and provides a stage for Floyd’s Young Actors Coop.

In many cases the venues in Floyd that feature dining and live music also promote the visual arts. Café Del Sol, Oddfellas Cantina, and Blackwater Loft all have regular rotating art exhibits on display. Over the Moon, above the Harvest Moon Food Store, is a café as well as a fine arts gallery.

Some establishments focus entirely on the arts and have built on the momentum of earlier community efforts. The June Bug Center specializes in the performing arts, everything from Shakespeare to Kid-interactive Story Theater and dance classes. Last year they hosted a Middle Eastern celebration called a Hafla, and a Poetry slam that brought the youth of the community together. Before the June Bug Center, The Floyd Theater Group filled the niche for community theater, hosting plays and Skit Night during the 80’s and 90’s. Around that same time the Mountain Rose Dance Center’s yearly dance recitals filled the high school auditorium with attendees.

The Jacksonville Center for the Arts, a renovated dairy barn, was home to the Winterfest Arts and Craft Fair before the renovations and before it was heated. Today at the Jacksonville Center you can take a class on blacksmithing, glass works, pot throwing, paper making and more. Their Hayloft Gallery is a popular venue that regularly features exciting exhibits of contemporary and folk art of local, national, and international artists. Winterfest, still going strong at the Jacksonville Center, will be hosting their 13th annual fair this coming winter.

Although much of Floyd’s art and music scene happens downtown, stretching from one end of Locust Street to the other, county residents have been creative in the way they showcase their arts. 16 Hands, a group of ceramic artists and one woodworker, helped set the stage for the recent surge of arts in Floyd with their biyearly self-guided studio tours. The open house tours began in 1998 and have grown to include visiting artists. Members of 16 Hands have gained national and international recognition for their art. Catherine Pauley recalls that several of the founding members were some of the earliest artisans to move to Floyd and believes that other artists coming to Floyd twenty years ago may have followed on their reputation.

Musical events held in farmhouses and local inns, known as House Concerts, are an old country tradition that is becoming popular again. Blues musician Scott Perry, who teaches music and hosts “Back Porch” concerts at his music store, The Pickin’ Porch, thinks they’re great.

“They’re music and musician focused events, as opposed to the music being secondary to dining and drinking.” Perry said.

Perry, who recently performed his second House Concert at Ambrosia Farm Bed & Breakfast, appreciates that at these venues he can do what he does best without having to think about asking for tips. Concert-goers are happy to pay a reasonable pre-set musician’s donation in exchange for a front row seat in an informal setting that includes a chance to meet and talk with the performer.

Post Notes: Photos are of The Floyd Country Store (home of the Friday Night Jamboree), and a sculpture in front of the Jacksonville Center, made by high school students who attended a week long sample course in the arts last year. Click HERE for the final installment of this story.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Flourishing of Arts in Floyd

This is the first installment of a three part reprint from a story that originally appeared in a Floyd Press special insert on March 27, 2008.

Whether it’s food and shelter, or creative arts and entertainment, Floyd Countians have a long tradition of providing it for themselves. Although Floyd has been home to talented musicians, quilters, woodworkers, and resourceful types for many generations, the county has recently been experiencing a renaissance of creative arts.

Native Floydian and high school art teacher, Catherine Pauley doesn’t remember anything organized going on in Floyd in the area of fine arts in the late 1970’s when she and several others decided to start an art association, which would become The Old Church Gallery. She does remember their earliest efforts promoting the arts in Floyd as playful.

“We were doing sidewalk art and art shows on the courthouse lawn. We ran wire along metal posts and hung up paintings. Kids, adults, everyone made them,” Pauley recalled.

Around the same time that The Old Church Gallery was being formed, young artists and musicians, pursuing the self-sufficient lifestyle and natural beauty Floyd has to offer, began moving to the area. Adding their input to the existing creative culture, they developed markets that showcased their arts, such as The Barter Faire, a Renaissance style event that was once held yearly on the Pine Tavern lawn. The Annual Floyd County Arts and Crafts Festival – which started in the high school cafeteria and has since spread onto the grounds and elementary school – was also taking off during this time of seeding the arts.

Many of the homespun endeavors that groups began back then to highlight the arts have recently been coming to fruition or have spawned new growth. New venues and businesses related to the arts have been cropping up, more music and art classes are being taught, and downtown improvements and opportunities for entertainment are drawing more visitors to Floyd.

Jayn Avery has been making her living in ceramic arts for more than thirty years. She’s recently been able to retire from traveling long distances to craft shows, finding more market venues at home. Weekend treks to sell her wares at The Roanoke Farmer’s Market have proven successful.

“Since doing the Roanoke Market, my sales in Floyd have increased. It’s provided consistent exposure and a new clientèle. When people ask where they can get my work, I send them up to Floyd,” Avery said.

Avery’s lace impressed production pottery has always sold well at the New Mountain Mercantile, one of Floyd’s earliest shops to feature local arts and crafts. Her large hand built vessels and blue glazed heron sculptures were first exhibited at Floyd’s Jacksonville Center for the Arts, where she is an active board member.

“My higher end art pieces are selling in Floyd now, and they never used to,” Avery said. The range of interest in her art has also increased.

“The Bell Gallery has sold pieces to people across the country,” she added.

Some artists, like Avery, work at their craft full-time out of their home studios. Others support themselves by combining their art with part time jobs. Still others wait till they retire to tap their creativity.

Bob Grubel, a founding member of the band Grace Note, supplements the income his music brings in with a job supporting individuals with disabilities. Over the years Grubel has recorded nearly a dozen tapes and CDs of his original music and the music of Grace Note. He sings and plays piano at local and regional venues and even finds time to keep a large garden, although he gave up his goats a decade ago when his music career started to take off.

“I enjoy wearing a different hat several times a day, going from music to supporting the individuals I work with, to farm activities,” Grubel said.

Grubel, who also performs at churches in the region, is set up to record music at his home. He also uses recording studios throughout the New River Valley.

“I love being in a community with so many musicians finding their niches,” he said.

Gretchen St. Lawrence, who relocated to Floyd with her husband David two years ago, is a late blooming artist, retired from years of working in the corporate world. The availability of art classes at Floyd’s Jacksonville Center was a factor in the St. Lawrence’s move to Floyd, but Gretchen says the main draw was the friendly and encouraging people. One of her first connections with Floyd artists was through The Floyd Figures Art Group, a non instructional art group that first began meeting in the early 1990’s and uses live models for figure drawing.

“Artists here foster each other. Everyone at the Floyd Figures group accepted me without question or judgment,” St. Lawrence said.

St. Lawrence, who is currently a member of Art Under the Sun – a grassroots art association that hosts a gallery and offers art classes – explained that the support of other artists helped her to feel comfortable as an artist. From that place of acceptance her work flourished.

“It just took off. People started commissioning me to do pet portraits,” she said.

Post note: The photo is of a Floyd sign in front of noteBooks and the Black Water Loft. Click HERE to continue this story.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Floyd Poet Wins Symposium Award

The following was published in The Floyd Press on April 10, 2008.

Floyd County poet, Mara Robbins (pictured on the left) was one of three students representing nine regional schools to receive a first place award at a Poetry Symposium this past weekend. The symposium, titled "The Power of Poetry," was a first time event, sponsored by Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington. Robbins, a Hollins University senior with a major in creative writing, is a founding member of the Floyd Writer's Circle and one of the hosts of the third Saturday Spoken Word Night at Floyd's Café Del Sol. She was chosen from area college applicants to present in both featured categories, original poetry and critical papers on poetry.

The two day symposium began with a Friday evening reading by guest poets, Claudia Emerson and Bruce Weigl. Emerson, Professor of English at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, is from Chatham, Virginia, and at one time was a rural mail carrier in Danville. In 2006, she won a Pulitzer Prize for her third collection of poetry, "Late Wife." The book was aptly described by Jeffery Brown when he interviewed Emerson for the PBS NewsHour as one about "loves lost through death and divorce." He also rightly called it an examination of the newfound love between Emerson and her second husband, who came together late in life. The poetry Emerson shared at her reading revealed her masterful ability to use concrete images - the furnace, the hairbrush, a quilt - to relate indirectly to underlying emotions.

Weigl, also a professor of English, is best known for his Vietnam War poetry. At the reading, he followed his first poem, about witnessing a young Vietnamese girl after she had been napalmed, by saying, "I'm not going to gloss these." Weigl, who was just out of high school in Ohio when he was sent to Vietnam, says in his memoir, "The Circle of Hanh," "The paradox of my life as a writer is that the war ruined my life and in return gave me my voice."

It might seem unlikely that a poetry symposium, especially one hosting a poet like Weigl, who writes with graphic honesty about war, be held at a military academy. On the VMI (Virginia Military Institute) news website, symposium organizer and VMI professor of English and fine arts, Gordon Ball, explains the institute's interest in poetry, "Today's creative writing classes are filled to capacity, and the student literary magazine "Sounding Brass" showcases our many student poets; the symposium capitalizes on such interest and productivity." Ball, who has documented the beat poet generation through film and words, was close friends with beat poet, Allen Ginsberg. He points out that Iraq War veteran, poet, and author of "Here, Bullet," had also read at VMI. At The Power of Poetry Symposium, a number of VMI cadets participated in poetry and prose readings. One revealed during a question and answer segment that he wrote much of his poetry in his head while marching on the drill field.

The symposium readings of papers and poetry by a total of thirty-six students were broken up with a luncheon and keynote address given by Emerson. Speaking on "The Power of Poetry," and the measure of it, as opposed to the meter, Emerson said, "Poetry is a way to measure emotion and manage events ... We measure what we care about." Emerson spoke about her past experiences as a literacy volunteer and of her love of Emily Dickinson's poetry. She also shared what her students had to say about the power of poetry. "Poetry is measured by alcohol proof and not by nutrient fact," one student had said.

It was Robbins' paper, titled "The Sacred and Everyday in Two Ancient Goddess Poems" that won her formal recognition, a monetary gift, and complimentary books by Emerson and Weigl. The paper (which tied for first place with another student's) compared two ancient Goddess poems, one of which was originally written in cuneiform, the earliest known form of written script created by the Sumerians in 3,000 BC. The other, "Invocation to Aphrodite," the Greek Goddess of Love, was written by the ancient Greek female poet Sappho. Robbins read, Spirituality has elements of mystery, and we need a sense of mystery and ritual in our lives. We also need to eat, drink, sleep, bathe, and procreate, and when the divine is set apart from these necessary activities it becomes less applicable, and therefore less meaningful. In order for the sacred to be sustainable it must have a place in people's daily lives ...

Katherine Swett, a student from Virginia Tech, won the poetry component of the symposium. One of her poems, "A Documentation of Grief" (which she referred to as 4/16 poem), particularly struck a chord with those in attendance. My first thought was that the literacy journal would have to have a special edition ... or specifically not have a special addition ... and that this wasn't the right kind of first thought ... I was in my towel and was thinking about the fact that I was in my towel and that I would probably always remember that I was in my towel ... Swett read and then continued... I didn't cry at the convocation ... it was too much like a football game, Nikki's words echoing in the stadium ... like an alien in our heads ...

On the steps of VMI's Preston Library, after the award announcements, Robbins was exhilarated and exhausted as she recalled how her Hollins professor, Jeanne Larsen, encouraged her to submit to the symposium. She expressed excitement at having met and interacted with Bruce Weigl, who she dedicated a first line to in one of the poems she read that day. "Poem beginning with a line from Bruce Weigl," it was called.

"Claudia Emerson is my hero," Robbins, who was primarily home-schooled as a girl, announced. Daughter of Wayne and Vera Bradburn, Robbins relates to Emerson's rural Southern background and was inspired by her keynote address. "Her reason for writing made more sense to me than any successful published writer. She doesn't write because she has to. She doesn't write because someone told her to. She writes because it is essential to her existence," Robbins said.

As a student and single parent of a nine year old daughter, Robbins would soon need to get back to the routines of everyday life. But for this weekend, she was content to savor her experiences. Surrounded by friends and few new admirers, she paused to take a phone call from her sister, who was calling from Floyd to offer congratulations on Robbins' outstanding accomplishment.

Post Notes: The first photo in this post is of Mara (on the left) and Katherine. The last one is of Mara with other Hollins poets who participated in the symposium. Left to right: Melanie Lynn Huber, Sharon Mirtaheri, Julie Lawrence Abernethy, and Mara.

~ First posted on loose leaf notes on April 8, 2008.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Floyd Scrabble Players Win Tournament Game

~ The following was published in The Floyd Press on March 27, 2008.

Those monthly Scrabble games I've been playing with friends at the Café Del Sol have paid off. I was one of three players from our informal group representing Floyd in a Scrabble Tournament to benefit the Literacy Volunteers of Roanoke this past Thursday. With a score of 458, Virginia Nathan, a literacy volunteer; Chelsea Adams, a Radford University writing teacher; and I played as a team and earned a first place prize for one of the two games played.

More than one-hundred players filled Fitzpatrick Hall in the Jefferson Center for the 3rd annual competition, hosted by the Literacy Volunteers of Roanoke Valley and the Roanoke Library Foundation. The games were played in two teams of three with two rounds lasting forty minutes each, just enough time to use all the letter tiles if we adhered to the three minute time limit for each play. For a $30 entry fee, the fundraising event included two games, a light supper, and desserts. A member of the Literacy Volunteers made introductions and announced the game rules from the podium stage. Shanna Flowers (pictured to the right above), a Roanoke Times columnist, was our gracious master of ceremonies.

The pre-game atmosphere was festive, but once the games commenced the pressure was on and everything but the task at hand faded into the background. Immersed in our team huddles, we were playing against the whole room for the best score. At our Floyd café games an occasional play might take as long as ten minutes. In this case we had only three minutes, but, working as a team, we had three brains between us. Virginia, the calmest of our group, sat in the middle, adjusting the tiles while listening to input from Chelsea and me. Chelsea kept score and I drew the letters from the drawstring bag, which I had to do quickly. During the first game my hands shook as I placed the seven tile letters on our rack and tried not to drop them. By the second game, we were all more confident in our abilities and teamwork.

In between games, we socialized with other word lovers.
There was a strong showing of employees from the Roanoke Times, one of the tournament sponsors. All of the six players on the teams we competed with were from the Times. George Kegley, a retired business editor for the Roanoke Times, was the evening's official Scrabble judge.

Some teams boosted their team spirit by wearing matching clothes. One group of three women stood out, with feathered boas around their necks and large floppy hats with letter cards attached to them on their heads. T-shirts with words and Scrabble logos were worn by some players and volunteers.

Dictionary look-ups were allowed but cost an additional $3 donation. Every table was equipped with a Scrabble board, a timer, and three colored flags. With a wave of a yellow flag a volunteer would appear to assist with a dictionary look-up. A red flag brought the Scrabble judge to determine if a "challenged" word was acceptable or not. A green flag could be waved if players needed rules clarified.

I learned from my teammates that JENNIES are female mules. It was a word that could have scored us a Scrabble Bingo worth 50 bonus points if we had found a place on the board to play it. LATHER, JAILED, QAT, ZEES, TOKEN, and RODEOS were some of the words our team put down. We were able to make as many as three words in one play when we played a word that attached to existing ones on the board, expanding on them.

Our prize for the best score of the second round was a $50 gift certificate from Barnes and Noble for each of us. Prizes for the lowest team score of each game were copies of the Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary. A prize for the most interesting word, HALOGEN, was a round of golf for four at Westlake Golf and Country Club in Smith Mountain Lake. The best team name also won a golf package. Some of the team names this year were Victorious Secrets, Word Warriors, The Tilettes, and "Surely, This Name Will Win the Name Contest." The award went to the Chixtionaries.

At the close of the evening, Virginia, Chelsea, and I (aka Two C's and a V) struck up a conversation with a fellow player about the 2008 National Scrabble Association's Tournament, which is being held this summer in Orlando. I don't know if any of us will ever make it to National Tournament, but I'm pretty sure we'll all be back in Roanoke next year for the Literacy Volunteer's 4th annual tournament. In the meantime, maybe we'll purchase some books about Scrabble with our Barnes and Noble's gift certificates that will help us improve our game.

Post Notes: The first photo is of, left to right, Colleen, Chelsea, Virginia, and Shanna Flowers.

Originally posted on loose leaf notes on March 24, 2008.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Music of Coriander Woodruff

The Following appeared in the regional newspaper insert “All About Her” in January 08.

Coriander Woodruff has been her own kind of musician since she was a toddler making drums from empty coffee cans.

When she was ten years old, she heard a segment on NPR radio about GarageBand, a software program that features a virtual soundboard for mixing and recording sound. She knew it was the next step in her music exploration. With GarageBand, Coriander could sample a variety of instruments, loop sequences, and synthesized sound to create her own musical collages in the comfort of her home.

Her father is a computer programmer and her mother is an artist. Her older brother leads a Floyd Ghost Tour with a theatrical flair, and another member of the Woodruff household is a musician. Considering Coriander’s background, it’s no wonder that by the time she was thirteen years old she had composed and produced two CD’s of electronica music.

“What was your party like?” I asked her. We were in the Black Water Loft, a café in downtown Floyd where the October release party for her second CD, Black Light Blue Frog, was held.

“There were plasma balls and lava lights,” she answered. She described how her father projected a light show onto the café wall. And what would electronica music, also known as house party music, be without a black light? There was one, she said.

In between sips of tea, Coriander’s mother, Pat Woodrufff, told me that the October 26th CD Release Party was also Coriander’s 13th Birthday Party. Coriander described how the black and white costume she wore to the party and in the photo on her newest CD cover came from a Halloween costume search. “I wanted to be an “optical illusion,”’ she said.

According to Coriander, her early music was “awful stuff that had me pulling out my hair.” In the first year working with GarageBand, she did a lot of “testing.” It took a year before she composed something she was proud of, a song from her first CD, Spirit Web, entitled Galaxy Seeker. More recently some of her music was featured in “Floyd Home Companion,” a parody of Garrison Keillor’s Radio Show, Prairie Home Companion, with a Floyd twist. The play was recently performed in Floyd by Coriander and other cast members of Floyd’s Young Actors Co-op.

As with her early coffee can drumming, Coriander has been using a computer since she was very young. She taught herself touch typing after being involved in an “adventure chat room” in which you had to type fast to keep up with the game. That kind of self-motivation is a thread that runs through her and her family’s life. As a homeschooler, Coriander’s curriculum is based on the learning that is inherent in pursuing her interests. Her parents encourage her hands-on learning style. Working with GarageBand puts music making in Coriander’s own hands. It also allows her family to avoid expense recording session fees.

We left the Black Water Loft and went to Coriander’s home, where she showed me her digital audio workstation and explained how she can find a sound to match the mood of a piece by searching under headings, such as Happy, Relaxing, or Dark. She can also overlay everyday sounds into her compositions. One of my personal favorite examples of this is in a song called “Please Turn Off Your Cell Phone,” in which she incorporates recorded phone sounds into a beat, everything from dial tone, to ‘if you would like to make a call, please hang up and try again,’ and her brother talking on the phone.

When I asked her if she was working on a new CD, she explained that she wanted to create music that would feel like the stars and the beginning of the universe. “It’s going to be hard, but I want to do it.” She added that making a CD takes a year or two because she can only work when she feels inspired.

At one time electronic music was a genre of its own, but these days many well known musicians incorporate it into their songs. The term “electronica” was first used in the early 1990’s to describe the rave movement and global-influenced dance music, but now it is also created for forefront and background listening. Also known as techno-music, electronica is a fusion of many types of music. It was once categorized with jazz and has been used heavily in New Age Music.

To those who think electronica music isn’t real music because it’s more about composing and mixing than it is about playing an instrument or singing, Coriander says, “If it effects you makes you happy, and moves you; it’s music. She promised me she’d invite me to her next CD Release Party. ~Colleen Redman

Note: Coriander Woodruff’s CD’s, Spirit Web and Black Light Blue Frog, are available at noteBooks in downtown Floyd. They can be purchased by mailing $10 plus $2 postage to Gryphon Studios, PO Box 190, Emporium, PA, 15834. You can visit to hear selections from her CD’s.