The rest of the story...

Here's where I tell you all the stuff that wouldn't fit in a 2-minute TV story.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas For the First time

To view story, click here.

I had originally approached Jackie and Rich Grant to do a story about how they would be raising their newly adopted sons, Teketel age 6, and Akilu, 4, from Ethiopia, in the great outdoors that surrounds their home near Carvin's Cove. Jackie and Rich are both avid runners and mountain bikers. They take full advantage of the wonderful playground that is literally right out their back door.

That would have been a great story. Unfortunately, the weather got cold before we could get there. That left me with an equally good story about how two little boys who came from an orphanage in a land most famous for well -- starvation -- have landed in a wonderful home in the United States.

Not only that, but it occurred to me that a close examination of what it's like to watch as the boys learn about things we take for granted, would be equally intriguing.

What would you think of Halloween if you had never heard of it? Thanksgiving? What if you had no knowledge of Pilgrims? What if you were learning all this and you didn't speak English?

These are the challenges Jackie and Rich are facing -- and they are doing it amazingly well.

Trace the time line with me. Jackie and Rich pick the boys up from Ethopia in April. The Grants have memorized some basic life words, such as "bathroom" so they can communicate with the boys. But for the first few weeks there's not much real communication.

For the first three months the boys speak to each other in their native language and to Mama and Papa in broken English. Then at 6 months they begin speaking English even to one another. Ask them now -- at about 9 months what they spoke in Ethiopia and they think it was English. Amazing how young minds work.

Bear in mind that Jackie and Rich are doing everything they can to help the boys remember their homeland. Eating Ethiopian food -- (I had some, it's good)-- and celebrating Their holidays as well.

Rich taught the boys to ride their bikes. He found a write-up on the internet describing a technique where you take the pedals off and let the child coast downhill to learn balance. After two weeks of coasting, he put the pedals back on and the Teketel and Akilu were pedaling happily.

Back to the holidays. At Halloween the boys learned to wear costumes. So when the next big holiday came -- Thanksgiving -- they asked, "What will be dress as today?" Enter a lesson on Turkey, Pilgrims and Indians.

Another incident -- losing a tooth. Jackie told them the tooth fairy might come. The boys were scared. When they learned Santa was coming down the chimney while they were sleeping -- they weren't sure they wanted anyone in the house. Mama and Papa had to reassure them.

To be there with them -- to see them eating dinner as a family, teaching, laughing and playing together -- you can see that it's been enjoyable both for Mama and Papa and for the Teketel and Akilu.

There will likely be struggles -- just as there are in any family -- But so far they've crossed some cultural and parenting hurdles most of us couldn't imagine.

As you saw in the story, they've been teaching the boys about Christmas, but Jackie and Rich say they can't wait to show the boys what it's like on Christmas morning.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lake Effects -- The Improbable Back Story

Lake Effects -- The Improbable Back Story

It’s amazing to people that through the course of the summer, stars from Hollywood were walking the aisles of the Kroger at Smith Mountain Lake. (One of my neighbors ran into Richard Moll, whom you may remember as the goofy, bald bailiff on the TV show, Night Court.)

The celebrity sightings were everywhere. The community rallied and helped in any way you can possibly imagine. The stars themselves seemed truly struck by the beauty of the area and the friendliness of the people.

The people, in turn seemed enamored with how “down to earth” the Hollywood set came across... Pulling their pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.

But the most impressive piece of the movie picture is Sara Elizabeth Timmins, who at 33 years old, put the whole thing together. Her title is Producer, but she also created and owns Life Out Loud Films, the company behind the picture. I’m sorry – but this is not easy.

As we said in the TV report, she was doing pretty well as a motivational speaker, occasional actress and producer for other people’s projects. Then came the fateful day she walked along the lake near Penhook and had the inspiration to make her own movie.

Understand she didn’t really have a concept. She didn’t have Jane Seymour waiting in the wings. She didn’t have the millions of dollars it would take to pay the up front expenses. She didn’t even have the "She Doos" on board yet. (Local women who ride jet skis)

That’s why the focus on my story is on Sara Elizabeth and not Jane Seymour, or the rest of the cast or the substantial economic impact the filming had on the region.

It was Sara Elizabeth who hired a scriptwriter to work a story around her parent's home – which is all she had to work with. She sweet-talked all the local businesses into donating or providing (at low cost) everything from food for the crew to boats and even lodging at the 4-H center. She convinced business people to invest in the venture. She won’t say how much it cost to do this – but let’s assume at least $1.5 million. She would need multiple investors. Savvy businessmen.

The conversation might have gone something like this:

Sara Elizabeth: “I’d like $50,000 to make a movie.
Potential Investor: I see. What the film about?
Sara Elizabeth: There’s a sea monster and two sisters. They find themselves after their father dies, while a crazy guy looks for the monster.
Potential Investor: Hmmm. Where are you going to shoot this movie?
Sara Elizabeth: At my parent’s house.
Potential Investor: Um, ok. And how much experience do you have making movies?
Sara Elizabeth: Well I’ve been a producer in Cincinnati and Los Angeles but I’ve never actually made my own movie.
Potential Investor: And what will you do with this movie once you make it?
Sara Elizabeth: I plan to market it to the major TV networks and motion picture studios.
Potential investor: What makes you think you can do this?
Sara Elizabeth: Well, I was walking along a dirt road in Pittsylvania County and I had a vision.

Now – what would you say if you were the “Potential Investor?”

Are you starting to get it? Do you see how unlikely this is/was?

Clearly, Sara Elizabeth Timmins, who is as nice as she seems in the story, and bent over backwards to fit the shooting of this story into her schedule, is someone to be reckoned with. It is the sheer force of her ability and personality that made everyone want to join in, become a part of this film, and ultimately make it a reality.

The next step is selling the movie to one of the networks or someone who might put it on the big screen.

Sara Elizabeth isn’t saying how far it will go.

But don’t bet against her.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Boat Names

Cruise through a marina or walk along a boat dock and the names on the backs of the boats are bound to get your attention.

You see one like "Drift Away" and you know this was someone looking for escape. Nothing too fancy there.

But they can be sooo clever.

Aquaholic, My Wake, Three Sheets to the Wind -- now those took some thought.

Lots of people use the word "Miss" in front of a woman's name -- usually a woman in their life. Thus we get, Miss Monica, Miss Mary, Miss Belle.

But take it one step further into the gray matter and you get, Miss Behaven. I like that.

All of this was so intriguing to Linda Sturgill that she bought a camera and started taking pictures of boat names, and interviewing the owners who coined them. Spending half the year at Smith Mountain Lake and the other half in Florida, she has ample opportunity. (Or should i say a Boatload?)

She took 4,000 pictures and put 2,000 into the book, with as many of the stories as she could gather.

The book is called: Boats, Their names & Why.

There is a long list of stores that sell the book -- many around Roanoke and Smith Mountain Like.

You can contact Linda directly at

We had a great time shooting this story thanks to George Blosser and the members of the Smith Mountain Lake Antique and Classic Boat Society. They showed up in four gorgeous boats and took us around to get some b-roll and to talk about boats.

The best story I heard from the group is in the TV report. It's the story behind Bill Goold's boat, Firewood. Though it's gorgeous now, it was a heap when he brought it home -- complete with dry rot and holes in the side. His buddy told him it was nothing but firewood. The name stuck.

At any rate, thanks to everyone who took us for rides and shared the stories about the names on the back of their boats.

If nothing else I now have a yearning for an wooden boat so I can name one. But it's Ashore Bet that it won't happen anytime soon.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Ponies of Mount Rogers

We had quite a hike up the side of Mount Rogers in order to get to the wild ponies. I'll write more later about the trek and my thoughts about the dangers they face in the winter. But as promised here are the links to some more info about the ponies. If you want additional information or photos there are plenty to be had. Simply Google "Feral Ponies Virginia" and you'll get a screen full of quality hits.
Click here to watch the story.


Running Wild

Feral Ponies of Virginia


Here are a few observations about the ponies and their plight. I'm actually torn as to what is the best way to handle the situation. There's something significant about letting the ponies be "wild." Letting them live and forage as their ancestors did before they became domesticated. We are used to the notion of deer being wild. Same for bears, rabbits and everything else in the woods.

Ponies are different. Here we have an animal that's been domesticated and returned to the wild. Low and behold -- it worked! They reverted to their instincts. they paw through the snow in the winter, they bed down in swamps and naturally seek shelter from the storms. Last winter, the snow was just so deep they couldn't move. What's amazing is that any of them survived.

The Wilburne Ridge Pony Association is supposed to give them some help when things get tough. I asked them repeatedly to meet me at Mount Rogers for this story, but my phone calls went unreturned. I was told by several people that the association is made of of about 12-15 people who are getting on in years and may not be able to really handle the adverse conditions that winter at 5,000 feet can dole out. Again -- I don't know for sure -- because I only had a brief conversation with one member who said he wasn't comfortable talking to the media.

What's clear is this. Wild or not -- the ponies are comfortable with people. Deer don't spend the night in your camping area, like the ponies did with one of the hikers I interviewed.

There is an enormous number of people who come to see these ponies, care about the ponies and want what's best for them.

Should they be rounded up and kept safe in a barn somewhere during the winter, or does that defeat the spirit of the "wild" herd.

Is there a better way to care for them in the winter? Could a more concerted effort be made? (I didn't say "should" because by many accounts it may not be possible despite the best of intentions.)

I don't have the answers. But I hope that by shining a light on these creatures in this story on FOX 21/27, that we all continue to talk about it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Stand Up Paddleboarding "Luke Waterwalker"

The whole time I was on the river with Luke Hopkins, it never occurred to me to refer to him as "Luke Waterwalker."

We talked about walking on water, which is cool, and let's face it not far from what he does. But it's also a parallel for his rare abilities.

Not only is he an accomplished paddleboarder and water sports enthusiast in general, i.e. kayaker, canoeist, rafter etc., he is a born inventor. And marketer.

He told me a story about how he was displeased with his life jacket, when he was in college, so he called the company to make suggestions. Within a few minutes he was on the phone with the CEO of the company. Within a few days, he was sitting in the company's R & D facility, making changes to the product. He taught himself to sew, so he could both design and build. And now 7 years later the company is still using those designs.

It's the same way he approaches his business. He's designed and built -- using proprietary techniques a surfboard that can be carried in the trunk of a car or on an airplane. But most importantly it can withstand the rigors of river use.

Not satisfied, he then designed the paddles. One of the new ones has a blade that's faced with bamboo. "It's light and it's cool," he said.

Add to that his absolute zeal for using his own products. "I've been up and down this river as many as a dozen times on a given Saturday," he said of the McCoy Falls section of the New River near Blacksburg. I take both of my dogs on the board with me, one of them won't fall off even when I do," he boasts.

I say "boast" but I don't mean brag. This is a guy who is really good at what he does. He really loves it, and lives it -- assembling the products with a handful of employees in his Blacksburg shop.

Also of note is his mantra, "Erase the Trace." Like other things he does, it takes a concept to another level. Outdoors people are familiar with the notion to "leave no trace." That means not to litter, or leave open fire pits or anything that would ruin the experience for the next person. Luke's concept with "erase the trace" is that we should clean up after others.

"If we all just pick up some trash while we are on the riverbank, or even in the water and take it home for disposal, the river's wold be even better," he said.

It's a good thought. Luke Hopkins doesn't actually walk on water -- but like I said in the story -- it's about as close as humans will get. I wish him well.

Monday, September 20, 2010

What is John Carlin's Virginia?

Welcome to John Carlin’s Virginia

I’ve done all kinds of stories for television. Some of them have won awards. At least a few kept government honest. And later in my career I was crime reporter.

But the stories viewers always asked about were the occasional ones that profiled everyday people, showed pictures of the fish they caught, or captured some part of Virginia’s outdoor or historic panache.

To this day, my father still remarks about the pumpkin patch segment I did in Clarksburg, West Virginia in 1983. (Really Dad?)

None of this surprises me. My heart has always been in what I call “hard” features, or true human-interest stories. To be clear, a “hard” feature story is one that takes a little time to develop, write and shoot. I’m not talking about shots of puppies and kindergartners, subjects that captivate viewers just by being.

Give me a man who logs with horses, a guy who built a race car in his garage over 10 years, or the top female muskie angler in Virginia any day. I’ve seen enough of the inside of courtrooms and city council chambers.

I’ve done a few of these stories over the years, but never as many as I wanted. So often I wanted to go find a story on how watermen catch crabs on the Chesapeake Bay, but the assignment desk needed me to go to a news conference. Or, I wanted to interview a family riding across the nation on a bicycle built for 5 – but had to say on the anchor desk while some other reporter covered it. Now, that I’ve been out of TV news for almost two years, the situation is different.

The most significant change is that viewers, and therefore stations – at least FOX 21/27 -- want this type of story to add to the daily mix. Viewers want a dose of Virginia mountain heritage to compliment the latest on the Gulf Oil Spill or the President’s troubles. I’m happy to oblige.

Notice I didn’t say anything about REPLACING the regular news. We still need it and I have the same respect I always did for my colleagues who keep the world honest by shining a light on government, business or even the weather – anything that might put the common good in harm’s way.

But it will be nice, twice a month, to go shine a light in some corner of Virginia where no one else is looking. So, if you have something important to talk about, call the assignment desk. But if it’s merely interesting – Well I’ve got two shots a month.

I’ll see you out there, on the trail, on the water, in the woods. Maybe even the pumpkin patch.