Saturday, October 30, 2010


Our 3-hour drive to the Vienna Metro Stop ended with a half-hour cruise through exit 62, past a parking lot with no room left, up to section 3-3 of a scissored building we feared would have no spots left.  Were we imagining things or did a thick line of people stretch a couple hundred yards outside the subway terminal? 
Check out those two hats.  That's what today was all about -- at the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert Rally for Sanity on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  You may have to click on the picture to see that the "E" has been crossed out.

Here's the reason I joined the crowds that came from everywhere to express their interest in restoring sanity to the anger we hear and read about.  The sunglassed man in blue emailed me a couple months ago, "let's go."

I wonder if the Washington subway has ever been this full of people.
I think this woman must have been busy before today.
"Is that Dorothy?" asks Virginia.
We arrived home in time to greet our first trick-or-treater.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Leaf Collection

After our visitors left this morning, I couldn't resist the blue sky, sixty degree temperature and changing colors. I laced my shoes, loaded my bottle belt, and aimed at Wildcat Mountain.  This jogger almost tripped when he traded waves with some loggers he recognized.  For a while after, I kept my eyes on the ground. (Be sure to click on each photo if you want to see the entire view.)
I noticed many colorful maples, tulip poplars, Virginia creepers and sassafras, but only brown oaks.  Ah, here's one.
Then it was time to raise my eyes.  Here's the Devil's Marbleyard.
Today, as I approached the top of Wildcat Mountain, I chose Cave Mountain Lake instead of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Having reached a smoother surface, my eyes gazed higher...
and higher.
"I'd bet there was a lot of traffic up there," says Virginia.

Not a single car.  Just me and the leaves.


I'm sure you've noticed that many nonprofits set up various categories of giving.  I like the images conveyed by the titles used by our local environmental organization, Boxerwood Education Association, which include "Garden Angel" and "Great Oak Society." 

I don't care for the tendency to specify benefits for various levels.  I realize you don't have to accept the chatzkas and whatnots.  I recognize that some people like them.  As for me, I'd rather not fuss whether an entire contribution is tax-deductible or whether it has to be adjusted to reflect value received.

I imagine experts on this topic have all kinds of suggestions.  I haven't Googled or researched them.  What makes sense to me is trying to understand a particular organization and community and what motivates people to contribute.  I'd bet an organization is most successful when its categories of giving match those motivations.

Let's return to the benefits.  Some people like to see their names on lists, for example, as "Garden Angels."  I know people who turn to the lists as soon as they're seated at a concert.  I also know people who never look at the lists, even if they're on them.

Some folks like being invited to special events that recognize similar givers, to mix with the prominent, the monied class (as if "class" has anything to do with wealth or inheritance).  Others are content giving under the title, "Anonymous."  Why?  Perhaps because anonymity is the highest form of generosity.  Or because it doesn't invite solicitations from every other organization in town.

Sometimes it's nice to find a package in the mailbox containing a tasteful tee shirt even if boxes of unworn fabric wait in the attic.  On the other hand, another monogrammed coffee cup -- or a CD of an assorted collection of music worth one listening session -- might not be so welcome.  Someone who already has almost everything doesn't need more clutter.

"I'm not sure why, but this reminds me of the pricing of 'art,'" says Virginia.  "Say you visit an art show and admire a painting priced at $195.  What does that price say?"

Maybe it means the artist is either insecure or doesn't value the work.  A confident buyer might think it's a bargain.  An uncertain viewer might consider it overpriced -- that something's wrong with the piece or the artist would have priced it at least as high as $200.

"In Bangladesh, it might be a gem," says Virginia.  "In New York, it's a dabbler's junk.  Or maybe it's just...."  She lifts her head and peers over her nose, "Poo-poo."

Everything is in the eye of the beholder.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mr. Know Nothing

Here is Mr. Know-Nothing in front of his newly installed greenhouse.
Three other essential ingredients should be in this picture, but we forgot to bring out the camera -- Karen, the puzzle mastermind; John, the squarest fellow around; and Susan, the predictor of truth despite our denials.  Karen, having photographed Humpty before we took him apart, figured out how to put Dumpty back together again.  John, builder and carpenter extraordinaire, brought his transit and showed us how to properly layout the mini-foundation.  When I set about to do something wrong the first time, as is my custom, Susan consistently pointed out what I would do second.  Susan, who knows greenhouses, having done this before, brought me a gift, a book on greenhouse gardening, and predicted that soon I will understand the various zones inside this one.  Thank you again, all three of you.

Meanwhile, I know nothing about this thing, except what I learned today while putting it together.  As you can tell, that part isn't yet finished -- the thing isn't "green" yet because it has no roof, sides or plants.  Maybe I'll read the book before the plastic shows up.

So tell me, what should I put in this thing?  Broccoli, greens, tomatoes?  Orange and grapefruit trees?  How about some comments for this neophyte?

"I think you have your work cut out for you," says Virginia.  "So much for my future."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Buying Time

I'd like a few extra hours each day, same lifespan, same aging per day.  It's possible, you know, although I've been a pretty slow learner.

For the past 10 days, off and on, we've been scraping, re-glazing and re-painting our second story windows.  After watching me stretch my calves for a couple days and holding on with one hand, while my feet took turns gradually sliding down the slippery copper roof, Karen called our local roofer for suggestions.  He had two.  One, use C-clamps to fasten a couple small boards to the vertical seal where two roof sections meet, then place a ladder or board above the C-clamp contraption.  This worked wonderfully, no more slipping and less need to hold on with one hand.

For extra safety, I wrapped a tie-down around each end of the 2x4 and fastened it to the window shutter hinge base.   Here's a photo of one of the tie-downs.
And here's me in action.
"Enough of that stuff," says Virginia. "What was his other suggestion?"

It was a much better one.  He suggested we buy time -- the time of two of his employees.  They showed up today and nearly finished the job for us. Hallelujah!

Friday, October 22, 2010

"I am not...."

"I am not a witch and I am not a bigot," says Virginia.  "I am not the murderer."

When I was a child, hearing "Thou dost protest too much," I would protest even more.  "But I'm not!  I didn't do it!  I promise!"

"Now James, don't make promises you can't keep."  As the knife sunk into my sorrowful heart, I knew I was falling farther into a hole I would soon yearn to escape.

"I am not..." is one of those sayings adults should use very carefully.  If the answer isn't clear by observation and independent facts, then denying isn't going to help very much. 

Well, you could say "witches do not exist."  Do they?

It depends on how you define "witch."

As for bigots, I dare say most of us have a bit of bigotry in our hearts, perhaps buried under lust, gluttony and other deadly sins.

"I am not the murderer," yells Virginia.

Oh give me a break.  Climb off that broomstick, will you?

"Don't forget Peter," says Virginia.

How could I forget the rock?  Since I was a child, I feared the day I might have to deny the truth if I wanted to save my life, another reason to avoid politics.

Meanwhile, the sun is shining today, so here are a couple more shots from the window of my study.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Getting Away With It

Did you know that corporate fraud often, if not usually, involves employees who: (1) have a need; (2) see an opportunity; and/or (3) feel justified in engaging in the fraud?  Not surprising, is it?  If you come up with an observation like that, you might see your name in lights -- the "James rule" or something like that.  Putting a name on something can help people in the dark fight crime.

For example, you've been working at WalMart for a year, you're still earning the minimum wage, and your rent payment looms large.  One of the guys who often punches in when you do frequently breaks for a cigarette and takes twice as long as you to stock a shelf, yet he's paid the same.  You notice that if you pretended to smoke, you could carry a stack of torn-down cardboard boxes out back with you, stick it on a recycling cart, and dilly-dally a few minutes while sucking on an electric smoke.  You might be able to stash a few CDs, some fishing lures or maybe a watch in that stack of cardboard boxes, then drive around back to retrieve them after you get off work.  Don't forget the surveillance cameras.

Or maybe you've been taking the subway to work while the guy in the next cubicle drives a snazzy new Jaguar.  Besides, your penthouse condo could use a new paint job because your housekeeper, though gorgeous, doesn't clean well.  You happen to work for a firm like Goldman-Sachs and decide to create nothing from nothing -- say, maybe a debit delinquent swipe -- and sell it to clueless investors long enough to collect a few eight-digit bonuses.

"I'll take two," says Virginia.

Right.  Her fingers are crossed.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dartboards and Hay Bales

On a morning when my mind feels like a dartboard, the view from my office window lulls the spinning to rest.  Click on the picture to better see 7 hay bales resting in rain.  I guess they won't be good for horses, but I understand cattle will eat almost anything, and Kenny's got cattle.  In an ordinary year, we'd see ten times as many bales.  I imagine the shortage of rain this summer will make for a frustrating winter for him and other nearby farmers, who may have to bite the bullet and import hay.
Here's another picture.  I've pushed up the window to let the sky inside.  Click again.  Would you like to go for a James River sail?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cutting Corners

Have you been wondering what the foreclosure fuss is all about?

"A little," says Virginia.  "Fill me in, please."

Two years ago, I reported a series of opinions by Judge Shack, New York, who began to throw foreclosure plaintiffs out of court because they had failed to show their appearance in the chain of title. 

"What's that?" says Virginia.

All right, let's go back to the beginning.  When you take out a home mortgage loan, you sign a stack of paperwork.  Two very important papers to the lender are: (1) a promissory note and (2) a mortgage (a/k/a security instrument, deed to secure debt, security deed, deed of trust).  The promissory note (a/k/a note) is your personal promise to repay the loan.  The mortgage is your pledge of your home to secure your promise to pay; if you don't keep your promise, it gives the lender the right to take your home and sell it to repay what you owe.

When you close your loan and sign the documents, the closing agent (attorney, title company or escrow agent) scurries with your mortgage to the appropriate land records office.  In general, the first to record has priority over later recordings, so your lender wants to be first.

In not so olden times, you paid your lender each month and eventually, after 15-30 years or when you sold your home, you paid off the entire loan and your lender released the mortgage -- at which time you owned your home "free and clear" (if ever so briefly, perhaps). In modern times, the lender wants to recycle its funds and re-lend them, so it sells your loan to someone else.  That helps explain why you make the first few payments to your lender, then for a couple years you pay X and then for several more years you pay Y. 

Also in not so olden times, each time your loan was sold, the buyer recorded an assignment of mortgage in the land records office so everyone knew it now owned your loan.  That cost a few bucks.  In modern times, the lender sold your loan to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac or some other firm that collected gobs of loans and "securitized" them, breaking the various loans into categories (such as prime or high quality, subprime or low quality) and even separating individual loans into pieces (such as the right to receive principal, the right to receive interest, the right to receive late payments, etc.).  In turn, the securitizer sold the various pieces to investors and, to encourage them to buy, included a few warranties and representations in the governing documents.  Rather than record assignments for each transfer of the various interests (and pay the land records office for each one), Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and others in the mortgage industry set up a private company to keep track of who owned what and called the company Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. or MERS.  Reportedly, MERS hasn't done a stellar job so things have gotten confused.  Besides, some of the land records offices aren't happy about being sidestepped and some of their lawyers (in the form of state attorneys general) are challenging the MERS system.  And other folks messed up outside the MERS system.

If you stop paying your mortgage loan, the current owner or owners won't be happy with you.  Your original lender sold the loan, so it's pretty much out of the picture (although it made some warranties when it sold your loan that could come back to haunt it).  The current owner or owners generally are represented by the servicer to whom you're supposed to send payments, so the servicer or someone it hires eventually will sue you to take possession of your home, relying on the mortgage you signed (it might be able to do this through a nonjudicial process without suing you, but for simplicity's sake we'll limit our discussion to the use of courts).  The challenge for the servicer or the person it hires is to show it has a right to sue you -- by tracing its right back through various documents to the mortgage you signed, that is, a good chain of title.  If MERS or one of the previous owners messed up, that can be tough to do.  Or even if no one messed up, it might be troublesome to gather all the relevant documents and present them to a court in a meaningful way.  As a result, the servicer or its representative might be tempted to skip some of the necessary steps or even forge a document that appears to make some of those steps unnecessary.

That's where we are today -- in one big mess, thanks in part to some of the same folks to whom we generously donated many of our tax dollars a couple years ago.  Oh yeah, they repaid us, hmmm....which has much to do with the big bundle of so-called toxic assets the U.S. Treasury now holds, many of which are gummed up in the foreclosure mess?  Maybe the U.S. Treasury is busy checking out the warranties mentioned above?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


After scraping paint off windows for 4 hours, sore calves and a blister on my palm rang the closing bell.  I went inside to check emails and found a small, insulated manilla envelope resting on my keys.  Someone has discovered that's the best way to remind me to do something.  Oh yeah, that someone is me.

The envelope contained instructions and a packet of seeds.  I read them, retrieved the phosphorescent green number one key that starts my whopper of a Dodge RAM, and aimed the pickup toward our field.  It was time to make a withdrawal from my bank of aged horse droppings, sawdust and wood chips.  The instructions prescribed 75% composted bark mulch and 25% horse manure.

Under a giant oak tree, near the woods' north edge, I piled the mixture in a rectangle formed by 4 locust logs, formerly fence posts, gifts from a friend.  As welcome rain fell, I carefully laid ginseng seeds 1/2 inch underground.  Now all I have to do is wait 7 or 8 years.

"Yoo-hoo."  I was afraid of that.  It's Virginia calling.  "Have you forgotten?"

No, I haven't.  Fortunately,  my readers either have or don't want to take me to task.  I looked for that darn stove the other day and couldn't find it because of all the foliage.

"May I have an extension?" I ask.

"Of course," says Virginia, "not that I have any choice."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Less Than Half

Yesterday, knowing Karen was accompanying her friend, Susan, to pick up a ram, I figured I might as well get out and enjoy the cloudless blue sky, changing leaves and legs itching to be battered to a pulp. I hunted up Karen's 2-bottle belt, emptied the donkey treats, and refllled it with things I might need -- toilet paper, home-made peanut butter crackers, my cell phone and water. I kissed her goodbye, promised to check in now and then, and aimed south.

A mile down the road I looked up where the Blue Ridge Parkway cuts across Thunder Ridge. Depending on how I felt a few miles later, that's where I was headed. It seemed too far, shaded by the mist of morning as if it were still trying to wash out the sandman's gifts. I often wonder, as I gaze at these mountains, how many people within my sight are hiking the Appalachian Trail, which trolls the mountaintops.

First, though, I visited Arrowhead Lodge, less than a third of the way up, where I added some banana-flavored Gu to the supplies in my bottle belt. To prepare for the Hellgate 100, I need to get used to eating on the run, which I discovered by accident is not hard for me. One day in my life as a corporate rat, I was about to head out for a run when I received word that I was desired in the corner office, but not for another half hour or so. I grabbed lunch and waited. "Cancelled," said my secretary, "something else came up." So I ran.

Up, up, up, the same route I described in my September 19 post, "22-Miler," so I won't repeat it, except to say I encountered a few people this time. The first group was doing the logging I moaned about last spring when I found their equipment stashed along the trail. The second was a couple, wearing camouflage and carrying matching bows. Good, I thought. It's still bow season. I had worn an orange vest because I knew hunting season had begun. I trust bowmen more than riflemen. (By the way, Karen is a Bowman.)

This time I approached the golf ball-looking weather observatory with even more gratitude than last because I'd added the 4 miles from our house to Arrowhead Lodge. Fourteen miles up yielded to 14 miles down. I would have covered it faster had I not run into Rodney filling his bottles at the artesian well on Petite's Gap Road. "You're running long today," he began. "Yeah, 28," I said, pretty proud of myself, "did you pass me somewhere?" "Up on Apple Orchard Mountain," said he, standing up his bicycle, which led to introductions and his history as a runner who had run 4 Mountain Masochists in the 1990s before his back said, "no more." From Lynchburg, he had worked for the natural gas company before taking early retirement and had learned this area pretty well because of his work with local businesses. Now he paints, landscapes. "Lawn," he said, "spelled like laugh on."  See

After that break, the last 6 miles got me thinking, "If I feel this bad, what makes me think I can run more than twice this far?"

"Because you can," says Virginia.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Since we moved here, neighbors have told us that on the second Saturday of December, just after midnight, if you look carefully, you'll see a series of dim lights ascending a rocky path on the James River Face. The ghosts of Arnolds Valley past, perhaps? I haven't bothered to stay awake long enough to confirm this story. This year I will.

In fact, my miner's light will be among the hopeful, at the beginning of a long day's trail run. Next to mine will be Larry's, I hope, who hasn't yet heard if his application has been accepted. Not only must you train for this event, you must apply and persuade the race director, the famous ultramarathoner David Horton, that he won't regret depositing your $150 check. Yesterday, October 7, he posted the application form on-line.

The post office kept its promise, because Dr. Horton emailed me around noon today, expressing concerns about my ability to finish. He asked how many ultras I'd completed and what my times were. The challenge is, you must finish the 66-mile course in less than 18 hours and you must meet two cutoff times: (1) you must reach the Headforemost Mountain aid station (21.9 miles) by 6:30 a.m. and (2) you need to get to Bearwallow Gap (42.5 miles) by 12:30 p.m.

I responded immediately. I've run three ultras: a Fat Ass 50K (4:48:08), a Fat Ass 50 Miler (8:29:28), and Horton's own 52-mile+ Mountain Masochist (10:49:50). I threw in 27 marathons, the fastest being 3:01:51. None of these were impressive, but he mailed back, "OK, you're in." To my blatant "I will finish," he added "Talk is cheap."

Actually, in this case, talk is pretty expensive, when you consider, for free, I could run 1 mile down the road to reach the start of this course -- the Hellgate parking lot. Hence its name, the Hellgate 100K (although it's longer than 100K).

"So that's why you've been bumping up your weekly mileage," says Virginia, "and disappearing for four or five hours at a time?"

Right. At first, I blamed it on Born to Run, which persuaded me it was all right to enjoy running at my advancing age. When Larry sent me the novel, Hellgate, about this ultramarathon run in my own backyard, I started thinking maybe I could enjoy running even longer.

My friends, you'll probably soon be groaning about another Hellgate training posting. On the other hand, next year you might be up there with me.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What's Going On?

I didn't see the gorilla. I miscounted the number of times the folks in white passed a ball. All this in a short video on paying attention, I was a dismal failure, or maybe not. So, in life, I know I'm missing much, if not most, of what goes on. More or less than most, I have no idea, which doesn't matter, it's not as though it's a competition, or is it?

Perhaps I only see a little bit of what I'd like to see. And you see a little bit of what you'd like to see. Then, there's the little we see we'd rather not see, and the lot of what neither of us wants to see, but others want to see and do.

"No wonder we disagree on so many things," says Virginia.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Running Circles

A sliver of a moon watched over me as I jump-started my heart this morning. My protective vest was nothing until low-beams turned it orange. Have you noticed that motor vehicles are especially noisy in the morning after a night of ear-rest? I decided to head to the old Natural Bridge High School track.

Years ago, John Zerger, who first explained ultra-running to me, also introduced me to the benefits of long-distance circles. Running in the round eliminates the need to watch for traffic, potholes or uneven ground, which can become a challenge after four hours on foot. Once you lock into a pace, a watch can keep track of the laps. Best of all, you can call it quits whenever you want, with home not far away.

Boring, you say? Not this morning. I arrived at a track of dark blues and grays, the shiny crescent looking down. Each lap brought a change in hues, as Jill Color (Jack Frost's sister?) gradually emptied her palette. I watched the mountaintops to the East brighten and cast a faint pink light on the Western clouds. Lap by lap turned pinker into redder into white. The last year's football schedule on the side of the old field house slowly appeared in worn pastels. Not until my twentieth revolution did the ball of fire crest the James River Face. Two more trips around and I heeded the warning, "don't look me in the eye."

Drama over, I finished seven more lucky quarters and headed for home.

"You're lucky you didn't have to rush off to work," says Virginia.

Darn tootin! Instead, I soaked in the hot tub with my morning constitutional (cider vinegar and honey in hot water), nibbled a bit of breakfast, and climbed upstairs to my office.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I checked my mother out for a blockbuster weekend and had to return her this morning. Don't take me wrong; she's 88 and lives independently. A couple from her church planned a whirlwind drive to Charlottesville with Lexington right on their way, so Mother hitched a ride like a college student. Thanks to cell phones, I waited only 5 minutes on Friday and no more today, at the same gas station drop-off. In the meantime, we spent half of Saturday at the annual Mennonite Relief Sale in Harrisonburg. Anyone up for a $2,700 quilt or a $1,000 Martyrs' Mirror?

This takes me back about 22 years to the day I traveled to our employer's processing center in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey with a fresh face from law school. As we waited to check in at the hotel I asked if he'd like to go for a late-night drive to the city. His jaw dropped, "The Big Apple?" I nodded. "Sure," said he.

We agreed to meet in the lobby in 10 minutes. Off we went. When we approached the Holland Tunnel, my passenger muttered, "A toll? What's this for?" It was my jaw's turn to drop, "You've never paid a toll?" He said, "Never. How ridiculous! We have to pay to drive on a road?" Where had he been all his life? In the Midwest, I guess.

This short drive remains one of my favorite trips to the city. If it had happened today, he'd have used the word "awesome" so many times -- in reference to the lights, the action, the landmarks, the people -- I'd feel obliged to give a lecture on what the word once meant. "It's noon at midnight!" he exclaimed at one point.

"Don't forget," says Virginia, "why are you remembering this?"

On our return, before we crossed the river, I said, "Oh, we haven't been outside the car. Would you like to step out so you can say you walked a few steps in New York?" I could have pulled his door shut and driven away, but I wasn't up for that much excitement. Instead, a black stretch limo stopped behind us and as I waited for my friend to return, several people stepped from the shadows and approached its back right window, one-by-one. "Hey!" I shouted, finally the one with ants in his pants. He jumped in and off we went. I'm glad to report that today's drop-off did not offer that kind of excitement.