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, May 21, 2013

Of Sheep, Felt, Necessity and Art

Lisa's Shop on Monterey, Va.
We had just finished trekking through the drifting snow.  The feeling in my toes had returned and I was ordering hot food and a cup of coffee, when suddenly, a woman approached the table.

"I am a felter," she said.  "You need to come to my shop and see.  It's just a couple of doors up."

Thus was my introduction to Lisa Jacenich.
Lisa Jacenich with felt she created.

Lisa and her husband Jim are, to quote their website "full time fiber artists."  That and so much more.
Jim Jacenich

Fox videographer Curt Schruth and I had just finished shooting our story on the late arriving maple syrup season in Highland County and had settled into a diner in Monterey.  Lisa has seen the news vehicle parked out front and didn't want to miss an opportunity to share her story.  I'm glad she didn't.

The more I learned, the more I realized it was going to be difficult to decide which parts of her story to tell.

Highland County lambs.

First of all -- I didn't know what a "felter" was or is.  I'm assuming most of the public does not either.

So a story on "where felt comes from" could be a story in itself.  Condensed version: Shear a sheep.  Clean and comb the wool.  Spread it out in large sheets -- like 6' x 10' or more, add soap and water, roll it up and agitate it for hours.  The wool compresses and you have felt.  Who knew?

Wool just before itbecomes felt.
Only Lisa is one of the few people in the world who have a special machine to agitate the wool.  (In some parts of the world they drag the roll behind a horse)  On top of that she is an artist who makes unique felt clothing.  And unique felt art.  And unique felt lampshades.  And she combines her felt with silk and other materials.  And her husband, Jim does something called kumihimo or Japanese braiding, which is cool. AND Lisa has been to that part of the world where they drag the roll behind horses to consult with people who make their houses from felt.

See what I mean?
Examples of Lisa's work.

Another other layer  in the weaving of this tale, is that Lisa and Jim are doing this in Highland County which is famous for it's sheep and it's beauty and is one of my favorite places.   So we had to show some of the countryside as well.

Fox Videographer Curt Schruth takes video of the shearing process.

This is not a painting, it's Lisa's creation from felt.

Souvenirs from Mongolia.

High Fashion felt.  Scroll down for more.

Bottom line is that there are multiple stories here.  From the art, to their decision to move to the country and become artists, to the fact that they have traveled to Mongolia where the world's best felters reside -- because they make their home from it, there is a bottomless pit of story angles. (I won't even get into the wedding dress she is making that involved a role of felt that was on a ship that Commodore Perry captained as the United States first visited Japan in the 1800's. )
 The bottom line is this.  Lisa is a talented artist, who is doing something that is rarely done anywhere.   Her creations are literally world class, and each one is unique.  And she is doing all of this while sequestered in a beautiful, small town in the mountains where life is causal and low stress.

All she needs is a little visibility.  I am happy to help.

For more information, you might want to check out Lisa's website or take a drive up Route 220 to Monterey.  It's a beautiful drive and there are great places to eat once you arrive.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Barn Quilts

There is a cool phenomenon finding its way into the rural landscape.  Barn Quilts.

Click here to see the TV story.

A barn quilt is a simple quilt pattern, painted on a sheet of (usually) plywood and affixed to the side of a barn, shed or some other out building.

My story on Fox focuses on Cydney Willis who has a barn quilt on her horse barn.  I found out about it, when by son, Ben came home with a photo of the quilt on his cell phone.
Cydney Willis works on her next barn quilt.

"Dad, I want to do a barn quilt for Gramma," he said.  "For Christmas."

"What," I asked, "is a barn quilt?"

He then showed me Cydney's painting and I was instantly hooked on the idea of the quilts in general, and specifically for my mother who has been making real quilts for the boys since they were babies.

Ben methodically measured out the squares and chose the colors and painted and painted until he was essentially done.
Cydney works on her patio.

Then we had to strap two, 4x8 sheets of plywood to the top of the mini-van in freezing cold weather so we could transport the gift to my parents' home in central New York.  We hoped there was a place on the side of the barn large enough to hold the quilt and that Gramma 'Laine would want it.

The Boys piecing together the barn quilt.
It's one thing to put the grand kids' coloring projects on the refrigerator and quite another to change the complexion of your property with a huge painting the neighbors might not understand.  Barn quilts are, after all, a bit of a new development in agricultural decor.

My Mother, Elaine Carlin, Ben and my Dad, Jack Carlin.  Ben had just showed them the quilt.
 So we pulled in on Christmas morning.  We enjoyed a huge breakfast of egg casserole, home fries, and other delights my mother makes in her cast iron skillets.  We warmed ourselves by the fire and exchanged gifts.

And then the boys went out, pulled the massive quilt off the car and leaned it against the barn, while I guided my folks out to surprise them.

Mom almost cried.

To be clear, it was tears of joy.  She had labored so long to make Ben, Jonathan and Tyler special quilts, with special patterns.  They had all taken them to college, and sleep overs and dragged them around until they basically fell apart.

Now Ben had made a quilt for Gramma in the same pattern she had made for him.

It now has a permanent home on the side of the barn and has become a great source of family pride. 

Mom sees the barn quilt for the first time.
Cydney is hoping community groups and others will begin making these and attaching them to buildings all over Virginia.  Based upon our experience, that's a pretty good idea.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

25 Years of Roanoke Mustangs

The Roanoke Mustang Club has been in existence for the past 25 years.  During that time they have shown a lot of cars, raised a lot of money and donated it to many local non-profits.

I first met Suzanne Beels sixteen years ago, when the Mustang Club wanted to donate to Saint Francis Service Dogs, where I was (and am) on the board of directors.  The club has continued to donate every year since for at total of $15-thousand plus. 

This year the club will again donate to Saint Francis as well as the Mill Mountain Zoo and the Virginia Museum of Transportation.
What struck me about the club is how much it ISN'T about the cars.  I mean, it's a Mustang club.  You can't show your car with them unless it is FORD powered, and they spend thousnads or tens of thousands of dollars on their vehicles.  So when I asked various members of the club what it was about Mustangs that was so enduring and endearing, they all said something to the effect of, "the People."
Members of the Roanoke Valley Mustang club like to get together and talk about their cars, but they really like to just get together.  They like serving the community and they enjoy the company of one another.
 So congratulations to the Mustang Club as they celebrate their upcoming 25th anniversary on Sunday May 5, at Red Sox Stadium in Salem.  They will have all kinds of auto related activities and at least 100-150 Mustangs.  Anyone can show their car -- as long as it is Ford Powered.
 I encourage you to check out the show.  You'll see some cool cars, and meet a great group of caring people.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Suspense in Maple Country

Ronnie Moyers taps a maple tree at Laurel Fork Sapsuckers.

People have been in a bad mood the past few weeks.  They are tired of the winter that "just won't let go."  How many times have you heard that?

You don't need statistics to know that we just endured a long, cold March.  You can look at the expressions on the faces of the people around you, or you could ask a Highland County maple tree.

The people are probably grouchy and out of sorts.  The tree will simply refuse to give up its sap.
Ronnie Moyers

That was the case the day I scheduled a visit to the Laurel Fork Sapsuckers, located on a 4,000 foot mountain about ten miles west of Monterey.

As bad as winter has been in the Roanoke Valley, it's been worse there.  The day we went it was about 50 degrees here.  When we arrived at the Laurel Fork sugar camp there was blowing and drifting snow and the temperature was in the low 20's.  Our host, owner Ronnie Moyers, met us in his driveway off route 250, thankful we had four wheel drive.  We would need it to get our gear even close to the sugaring process.

The Syrup tastes different at 4,000 feet.
And on that day, it was a bit moot, because there was no sugaring process.  It was just too cold.  The sap was not flowing.  Not flowing into buckets hanging from trees and not flowing in the plastic lines that save time by transporting the sweet sap to huge holding tanks.  There would be no wood burning fire to evaporate the water leaving behind the sweet syrup.  There would be none of the video opportunities we had driven over two hours to see.

Sap drips into a bucket.
When life gives you lemons you try to make lemonade.  We couldn't do a story on making syrup, so we crafted a report on the frigid weather! 

It actually was very pretty.  A winter wonderland in Highland County, often called, "Virginia's Switzerland."

Despite the weather, Ronnie and his family were busy tapping trees, and preparing for the annual Highland Maple Festival which happens every year on the 2nd and 3rd weekends of March -- rain, shine or cold.

As you'll see in our report, Ronnie and the Laurel Fork crew focus on doing things the old fashioned way.  All the sap is boiled over wood fires, in a sugar camp built from materials on the property.  There is not even an electric line running to the camp.  "We don't care about quantity, we care about quality, and doing it old school," Ronnie told me.  Visit their Facebook page.

Fast forward to today, April 2nd and I can report that the long, cold winter was no figment of our imaginations.  Ronnie called last night to say that the sap did in fact start running, and it's still running.  He projected that the season would go later this year than any in recent memory.

He also says he has plenty of the syrup from his sugar camp for sale -- though he expects to sell out pretty quickly.

A long-awaited drop of sap.
As a warm weather lover, I'm hoping this winter was the exception and not the rule.  If this keeps up -- They may have to move the Highland County Festival to the 2nd and 3rd weekends in April.

By the way, if you've never been to Highland County, it's worth a trip.  It's one of the prettiest counties in Virginia no matter what time of year you visit.  Click here to learn more about the year-round activities of "Virginia's Switzerland."

No fire today.  Normally the wood stove is steaming.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Leather Man

Al Perkins
I read a fictional book once where a successful TV weatherman chucked it all to open a lawn mowing business.  His life was crumbling from stress and he wanted to get back to doing simple things.

Now -- to be sure, Al Perkins did not "chuck it all" due to a crumbling life, but he IS getting back to a simpler way of working, using mostly his hands, his knowledge and his skill.  It's something I think many people would envy.

Working on knife sheath.
Al learned leather working as a boy.  Not the kind you did at summer camp -- but the professional kind he practiced with his father in their shop in Lansing, Michigan.  Now he's returned to it after a professional business career.  How many of us hope that there is something we will be able to do besides golf, fishing and gardening when we reach "retirement?"
Some tools are more than 100 years old.

Al is using some tools that are more than 100 years old and still in great shape.  He has some newer tools and machines which make life a bit easier than back in the day.  As you watch him work, you can tell it's all second nature.

"What I enjoy most is working with my customers," he told me.  "I like to hear their need for something special, and then find a way to fulfill that need."

Some people his age are doing crossword puzzles just to keep their brains active.  He's rebuilding saddles, making belts that are as much art as they are useful,  (Well maybe 80-20 in favor of useful -- but they sure are pretty and definitely unique) and custom bridles for horses and holsters for handguns.

It's nice to see someone who seems to have figured out how to spend his days doing something he enjoys while still making what Al calls, "... a living wage."  As we baby boomers enter the retirement years we might be think about what in our lives could be to each of us as leather working is to Al Perkins.

The finished knife sheath Al began in our TV story.
To get in touch with Al you can visit his website.  E-mail him at or call him at 540.319.1378.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Santa Who Never Quits

Tom Williams' everyday look.
Christmas was two months ago, but don't tell that to Tom Williams, who is the closest to a dead ringer for Santa Claus as any man I've ever seen.  You either.

Tom can't help but look like Santa, whether it's December, or July or last week when we caught up with him as he volunteered at the Habitat ReStore in Christiansburg.

He can't just turn it off.

We saw that when a young child approached him wide-eyed in the ReStore.  As far as that kid was concerned, THAT was Santa, and the boy wanted to talk to him.  Tom, of course obliged.

I asked him why he didn't just shave the beard and get a haircut.  "Then, I wouldn't look like Santa," he said.

The C'burg ReStore
See, Tom wants to look like Santa.  Not for the notoriety.  Not so he can sit in the mall at Christmas. (Which he doesn't do.) Not for some personality disorder, or even for local fame.  Tom wants to be Santa so he can accomplish good.

In my story, you'll see how Tom volunteers for numerous organizations.  You'll hear about his Santa Cares Program.  You'll see the story of a man who is truly trying to put the giving not just into Christmas -- but into every other month of the year as well.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Time for Renewable Energy?

Mark Hanson's home
Has the time come for Virginians to seriously consider solar panels and windmills to heat and cool our homes, power our blenders and light up our flat screen TV's?  Are battery powered cars finally the best way to get to and from work?  Maybe.

Make that a qualified maybe.  There are still a few obstacles to overcome, but one of the biggest -- price, is fading like a light bulb in a black out.

And that's generating new enthusiasm for long-time renewable energy fans like the men in my story, Mark Hanson and Mark Howard.  As we toured Hanson's home which is chock full of renewable energy and carbon footprint shrinking technology, the thing we heard over and over is that the cost of solar panels has come way down.  Enough that the two Marks, and their club, REEVA for Renewable Energy and Electric Vehicle Association are hoping more people will get in line to try what has been historically a passion reserved for hobbyists and environmentalists.
Mark Hanson

REEVA is an active club, and their website is full of pictures of projects the group has taken on -- often at the homes of other club members.  But they will go to just about anyone's home to help install wind, solar or electric car equipment, if the person will just buy it.

Hanson's custom electric VW
"We figured the cost of the energy has come down to the same price as traditional options, but the equipment still costs money.  We figured if we supplied the labor to install it, then renewable energy is a viable choice for a lot more people," said Hanson.

Mark Howard
It's not like their phones are ringing off the hook, but interest has steadily been picking up.  The other Mark -- Mark Howard, owner of PowerMark Electrical is a certified electrician who specializes in solar installations, he says about half of his work last year was solar related. 

The Marks and the rest of the club make valid points about our dependence upon non-renewable energy sources.  It's hard to argue with a solar panel, which as Howard points out, "... Has no moving parts. Once its installed it just produces energy."

Say one thing for these guys and, from what I can tell the rest of the club.  They talk the talk,  and drive the drive.   They are offering to donate their time and their minds to see others discover what they already believe -- that there's a better way.  I wish them well.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Urban Farming is Here.

Click here to view the TV Story from the Fox 21/27 10 O'clock news.

Roanoke has been trying to get in on the urban farm movement for some time now, and the city would have already been there had it not been for neighborhood uneasiness over urban chickens on said urban farm that would have been located on a portion of the old Countryside Golf Course.

If everything happens for a reason, then that happened so the farm, owned by the Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op, could land where it is now -- at the back end of the Center for Industry and Technology, and industrial center that is home to warehouses and light industry.

Though it's not exactly "urban" as in a vacant lot between two houses in an old neighborhood, or an abandoned industrial site, it is inside the city limits.  Add in a barn once used for the city's mounted patrol horses, a charming, if run-down log cabin and an organic agriculture expert named Sean Jordan and it is definitely a "farm."

Sean is already hard at work, raising chickens,  (inside  when we were there in November, but since moved outside.) and preparing the land for spring planting.  By this summer there will be a retail store where people who appreciate sustainably raised produce can come and fill their baskets.

By then, Sean hopes to be living in the old cabin -- which has been renovated so many times that it will be impossible to make "original."  At least it will soon have a foundation that is not crumbling, and a roof that has not been patched with Roanoke highway and utility signs.

I was most intrigued by the cabin -- which is a big part of our TV story.  As they begin to dismantle it, who knows what they will find?  What clues as to who has lived there and how since the mid 1800's?  (And why would someone junk it up with an over sized fireplace, complete with wall safe?)

On the cold gray November Day that we were there, the farm and cabin were more of a mystery than a reality.   It was hard to imagine rows of crops, hoop houses full of vegetables and fruit trees laden with apples.  It's difficult to envision the final status of the the cabin.  But with the potential of the rolling hills,  and a group that is determined that Roanoke should take its rightful place in the sustainability movement,  you get the feeling this urban farm will be both popular and cool.