Archive for March, 2009

Four paws and a homosapien

March 30, 2009

Animal Control


Last month, I had one really Bad Day.  It was largely mechanical. My car had died a thousand deaths. The curse continued this month, but this time it’s animal. It involves a squirrel, two canines, a cat, and a homo sapien.


We were dog-sitting for Chesapeake, a sweet, gentle Golden Retriever, at our house. Our Bichon Frisee, Frisbee, was a bit too skittish for Chessie, so we kept them apart with a baby gate (never throw those things away) and let them outdoors at alternating times.


One morning, Chessie was lying outside. Frisbee was in his corner of the family room, separated from Chessie by a six-foot tall open window. I was writing at my laptop and hadn’t noticed that Frisbee sensed Chessie’s presence outside. The larger dog couldn’t care a kibble.


I left the room for a cup of coffee. Within seconds, a ferocious squelching bark roared out of the family room and resonated in the kitchen, where I spilled my morning joe. I looked out to the back porch, where Relic the yard cat was romping toward his food bowl. Frisbee had never gotten that bent about Relic so I quickly strode to the family room to see what was the matter and found Frisbee shivering and curled up in a ball. The overhead ceiling lamp was swinging on its chain like a pendulum. A large arrangement of tall bamboo stalks lay tipped over. Bamboo lay on the floor and atop the TV, right below the swinging lamp.


In the morning light I saw its shadow — a  squirrel’s shadow.  A squirrel inside the inverted stain-glass style lampshade on the swinging lamp.  A squirrel that must have slipped inside when I had let Chessie out.  No wonder Frisbee had freaked.


I put on my detective Adrian Monk thinking cap and solved the crime: The squirrel had spooked the dog whose response spooked the squirrel, who ran up the bamboo, causing it to tip over in its basket but not before the squirrel had leaped to safety inside the inverted lamp shade, thus initiating the pendulum motion.


I held and comforted Frisbee, checked on the cat (who was eating obliviously), and looked out on Chessie (who may have been snoring).


In the basement, I found a huge cardboard sleeve that one of the tall windows had shipped in. It fit perfectly into the opening between the family room and the kitchen, which are separated by four steps and a pine wood landing. I put a table stool up against either side of the cardboard, opened the back porch door (which connects the porch to that same landing) as well as the back door of the family room [through which I suspect the squirrel had entered].  I was ready for Rocky.


From a safe distance I poked the lamp with a tall bamboo stalk but got no reaction from the shadowy figure, so I called Stafford County Animal Control. They came right out, saw the shadowy figure and asked me for a ladder. The strategy was to climb the stepladder, see the squirrel down inside the hanging lamp, net it, and release it outdoors. The animal controller ordered me and Frisbee to go behind the cardboard safety barrier, from where I peered in on the action. “Take a hike , Rocky.”  I thought.


The animal controller stepped up the ladder. Cautiously, net-ready in one hand, a telescoping snatching tool in the other, she reached the summit of the ladder, peered down at the shadowy figure, pulled back, paused, looked again, and made a curious-as-all-heck face…


She came down the ladder and called out to me, “You better come in here, Sir.”  She was in control and I dutifully obeyed.


“Sir, it’s not a squirrel in there, though I dare say it looks like one from where you’re standing in the morning light.”   A bird?  “No, sir.”   Don’t tell me it’s a snake!   “Nah. Sir, it’s a light bulb.  It’s there all the time, sits on an angle in its socket.”… 


I let Frisbee back into the room, where he ran over to the tall window and leaped up in pursuit of Chessie’s scent. The animal controller watched him. She turned to me. “See that, that’s how it happened. The dog did it. Must have knocked over the bamboo, which struck the hanging lamp and frightened your dog…”


I apologized to the animal control expert, who headed back to base to report the five animals she had just left: the two dogs, the yard cat, the phantom squirrel named “Lightbulb,” and the homo sapien she called “Sir” — but thought, “Dumbie.” 


“Four legs are better than two,” I imagined her thinking as she left me…


I took down the huge cardboard sleeve and crawled inside it.  I stayed there quite awhile.


I Pledge Allegiance To The Flag…

March 30, 2009

Allegiance ongoing


On a weekday morning in Spotsylvania County, VA about four years ago, a 12-year-old Ni River Middle School student named Gabriel Allen sat for his right not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. He was protesting the Bush administration’s Iraq policy. A court ruled in Mr. Allen’s favor and overturned county policy.  Emotions ran high in mixed public reaction. The boy was featured in the local daily newspaper.


That was then. It’s four years later, so now what?  Now that your child can choose to sit or stand, what does s/he do next?  I sat down with my 16-year-old that February to discuss this. I told her that I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.


I spoke of my sense of duty to a nation symbolized by stars and stripes, a nation that assures religious freedom for everyone, remains indivisible even when politically divided, and guarantees, by law, freedom for all of its citizens.


Since it was February, I reminded her that when Abraham Lincoln stood for the flag (before the Pledge of Allegiance was written), he was not signaling that everything was perfect, nor was he shunning his duty to right what was wrong.  He acted on his convictions and his duties. His allegiance ended slavery and preserved the union.


Black History, I told her, is an ongoing archive, not limited to just the current month. African Americans created the Civil Rights movement, moved legislation through the halls of Congress, and became exemplary models of freedom and citizenship from January through December, year after year. They stood up and stood tall, often in protest and always in allegiance to our nation’s ideals. Wanting to advance those ideals to include all Americans made them more, not less, patriotic.


Nationally, the roster of African-American achievement fills a long scroll. Locally, Rev. Lawrence Davies is one of many who kept the kettle from boiling over in Fredericksburg, VA in the torrid, turbulent 60’s. He not only stood for the flag and at the pulpit, he went door to door on street after street. He later became mayor and spread his conviction of unity beyond the church and into the secular city. His run for Congress was unsuccessful but his underlying message endured and he continues to be active in the community.


So what is next?  What actions will assure liberty and justice for all in a life that is not a spectator sport?  What will young Mr. Allen do next? More personally, I wonder what kind of citizen my own daughter will become? Early indications are good.


She recently stood up in biology class to put a stop to two other students who were mistreating the classroom’s domestic animals, unbeknownst to the teacher. She suffered pushback from her two misbehaving peers but she stood strong.


I complimented her on the content of her character. I told her she was preparing herself well for a future of showing up and standing up for what is right when others sit it out.


I hope my child will always stand and pledge allegiance to the flag, no matter who is in office, what their policies are, or what religion, if any, she practices as an adult. My 16-year-old is fortunate to live in a land where personal fulfillment is more possible than it is in most other places.


May she always appreciate that, may she always show grateful allegiance by standing for the ritual, and may she demonstrate active allegiance by advancing the concepts of liberty and justice for all people — just as Lincoln and Davies did.  As for Mr. Allen, my daughter, and their contemporaries, it is too soon to tell but I’m feeling pretty good about their generation.


March 17, 2009


Many of us who are outraged by AIG’s bonuses are middle class people who are re-prioritizing, asking ourselves, “What do we need for a good life? What do we really find essential?” It’s a complex question, partially spiritual, equally practical, with a dash of desirable.

Take food. Do we need gourmet satisfaction, good nutrition, or merely caloric survival?

What about housing? A Mc Mansion or a double-wide?

And regarding health — is your priorty a spray tan and Botox? Or did passing a kidney stone tell you that wrinkles and skin tone don’t matter?

What are we striving for and what are we missing because of the strain?

If what I observed recently one night is a sign, we are not missing compassion…

A veteran who had just returned home from Iraq was striving to regain his balance in life. Having dinner in a restaurant with his wife for the first time in more than a year, he was greeted by three former Marines, one at a time, and independent of each other. The three men, veterans all — Viet Nam, Beirut, Desert Storm — quietly approached the young man. One said, “Every day will get better.” Another, “Thank you for your service.” The third offered a celebratory drink.

After awhile, a fourth man stepped forward, not a veteran he. He watched the reaquainting couple for awhile, then asked me – the bartender – about the young Marine. When I told him the story, he quietly said, “No one returning from war should have to buy his dinner. I’ll take the check and don’t tell them who.”

That night, that Marine’s essentials were covered in a big way. The heart silenced the ravages of war, if only for an evening.

Maybe all we really need sometimes is to be sure everybody gets what they really need. The rest is gravy anyway, and you can pour that on your dinner.

PS – Congress has driven our country into record debt after years of passing irresponsible appropriations bills. In January, they gave themselves another raise. Where’s the outrage?

Thank you, readers

March 13, 2009

As we close in on 12 complete years of publishing [July 2009], this passage of time in this “Timeless” region is remarkable to us. Twelve years… Time has a way of slipping away. You can’t reclaim it. You can’t gather up the words etched in ink over time and re-assemble them into new works to be published later. The writers have spoken, their emotions and facts have been laid out, and you can’t go back in time and change them.


But you can reminisce. That is why we are grateful that Barbara Willis has a well-protected copy of every issue in the Virginiana Room of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library headquarters downtown.


Looking back allows us to smile at our milestones in the life of Fredericksburg and, you, our readers. Since 1997, you have been there through thick and thin. You’ve endured September 11; then, what seemed at the time to be a devastating Hurricane Isabel (before we watched the dreadful comparisons that hit the Gulf); followed by a demented sniper; and various sundry natural and man-made debacles, from treacherous tornados to outrageous traffic jams. You’ve changed the face of local governments and the way they approach growth and development. You’ve even changed the way the developers are approaching those issues for the better. Some of you are developers, and we welcome you, too.


You, our readers, have put on great festivals, saved battlefields, run charitable events and helped build homes for people needing a hand up. You’ve adopted kids, taught our kid, and given Fredericksburg numerous educational choices for their families. You’ve served us fine food, sold us sox and jeans and cars and china. You’ve given us the arts we love to cover, and the perspective we love to report.  You are Fredericksburg’s heartbeat.


Advertisers drive the economic engine of the magazine, but it’s you who draw them to us and patronize their businesses. You’re the reason we are a dozen years strong. You’ve written us, stopped us on the street, emailed us, or approached us at parties to talk about Front Porch and all those wonderful writers who make you want to pick up a copy of the latest issue every month. Those writers. We don’t dare single one out at this juncture. There doesn’t have to be a “best.”  To us, and apparently to you, they are all beloved and well respected.


And you, you are indispensable. One of you recently put the past 141 months of deadlines into a context that I wish everyone could experience at their own job. You paid us a nice compliment and turned me away from an essay about the magazine’s statistical success into an essay about you. Thank you.


Thank you to all who sit on the front porch with us every month and market your business, write from your heart, or simply read and enjoy the issue, cover to cover. July 2009 will begin year 13 for us – and you – together for a common good called “Fredericksburg.”



Who Are You?

March 11, 2009

“Whooo are you? Who-who-who-who? I really want to know…”

With that opening line from The Who, Front Porch Fredericksburg Magazine went out and asked a dozen or so dynamic duos who they are and why they chose Fredericksburg. The seed of the idea was planted one day I saw a familiar face out of context. She was stepping off the Virginia Railway Express at Claiborne’s Restaurant. I wondered who she was beyond my limited contact with her and why she was living here. And so it started, our quest to learn more about a few dynamic pairs who contribute to the goodness and greatness of Fredericksburg, VA.

Throughout the year we had profiled artists, business owners and other individuals, but never the person you see on the train or in the Giant grocery, never the couple walking down William or Caroline on a Saturday afternoon. Who are you? Where are you going? Where are you from? I really want to know…

When you think about Fredericksburg, consider its fluidity -– its smooth and seamless quality in tandem with the variables among its people. The town and surrounding area have gone through so many changes in the past 20 years, particularly in the past three, and many people have faced the accompanying uncertainties with a determined flexibility. They have truly adapted successfully without sacrificing the principles that guide them personally. It is that fluidity among the pairs we talked to that represents a common ground among them. That, and their fondness for Fredericksburg — the place and people – is what make our dynamic duos the composite face of Fredericksburg.

Throughout American history, it is said, the latest adult generation takes on a cause that fills a void left by its predecessors. By this thesis, today’s generation in its 20s & 30s is on a mission to build quality communities of people and places. Fredericksburg is an example of this mission, but with one difference – it is the collaboration of 20s and 30s together with 40s and older that is transforming our stream of consciousness and community. The couples we profiled in our January 2008 issue play exemplary roles in this process of community-building. As a paradigm shift brews and new generations take the reins, Fredericksburg remains a multi-generational achievement, a community tapestry that is all-inclusive and interdependent.

Visit any gallery, church, outdoor event or venue in town and you will see what we mean. Sure there are niche places for niche interests, but – as Andrew Hellier says in his interview with Victoria Scrimer — “Fredericksburg is so great. You have people who make millions of dollars hanging out with people who make [very little money] every night of the week.” Add the range of varying ages to that demographic and you make Fredericksburg’s case for community.

A case in point is The Jake Fund campaign to assist Jake Walther and his service dog, Jackson. Dozens of individuals and couples donated, and one large organization of community builders – The Lions Club –has taken the fund drive over the top with success. From fifth-grader Kylie Westerbeck, who donated her own money, to an older gentleman who called me at home demanding to drop off a check on Christmas Eve, the Fredericksburg community has responded with compassion to help one of its own. And when I told the caller he would not be acknowledged until the February issue, he scolded his younger colleague just a bit, saying, “I’m not doing this to get acknowledged. I’m doing it to get that kid and his dog some money.”

That’s what I’m talking about… Fluidity, community, compassion. If that isn’t enough to make you proud to be a Fredericksburger, then you are in the wrong place… Fortunately, our dynamic duos plan to stay.


March 10, 2009

“Anticipation — It’s making me late. It’s keeping me waiting.” – Carly Simon

March is like ketchup. It comes on slowly, painfully, with its fluctuations in weather. It teases your anticipation of Spring. You can almost taste it. Finally, it pours forth nature’s bounty.

It’s snowing as I write this piece, but I know that better March days are coming, and with it, Spring. A call from the folks at Virginia Garden Week to talk about April melts the snow right from my back porch steps. It’s coming.

Sure, there will be reversals in the weather, days ahead that make you wonder, nights that freeze you. The final frost might come in April, so protect your garden growth. But still, it’s coming. Spring will embrace us with her warm, sweet breezes, flowers will pop, shrubs will bud and blossom, shorts and sneakers will come out of winter storage, and we weather watchers will remember why we live here.

Anticipation is a great state of mind. It conjures up memories of Springs past, lifts your spirit, and tears off a clean sheet on your Honey Do pad. A March without anticipation is like a hamburger without ketchup.

There’s a whole lot to anticipate around the south — canoes on the river; frisbee in the park; music filling the outdoor air; open windows and swept-off patios; lunch on a park bench; fly fishing on the flats; a class in wellness to prepare for the outdoor season, shaping a new you inside and out; the sound of saws and hammers, dormant most of February, return to our Saturdays; the roar of the lawn mower begins in earnest. Because it’s coming.

Walks and runs attract the physically fit. Families wash the salt off their cars and mud of their puppies’ paws. St. Patrick’s Day and Easter strut our stuff in shamrock green and Sunday best bonnets. From green beer to chocolate bunnies, March and April challenge our diets.

It’s all coming. In like a lion but most likely out like a lamb, and certainly closer to the good stuff than February was, so cold and windy.

The anticipation is building. I’m staring outside looking at the snow with the same blank gaze I’m guilty of when I’m watching that ketchup drag its feet to leave the bottle. I know it’s coming, but I’m over winter and ready to warm up. Now.

Then, in rapid fire, the months will fall like dominoes, the seasons will flick by, and we’ll all be thinking about the first frost of the year! But not today. Today is perfect in anticipation of Spring. It’s not far off. “It’s coming around again.”


Hold On

March 5, 2009
Every reader of Front Porch has to be distressed by the economic conditions that threaten our country and the world.  We all have our theories on what caused the current crisis and how to solve it.  But let’s face it, this is a seriously complex issue that few, if anyone, really know the answer to, “What should we do?”  Economics is certainly not my forte and all I can offer as advice is two simple words, “hold on.”

Hold on to your family – nothing is of greater value than the people you love, be they blood relatives, marital partners, loved ones or friends.

Hold on to the simple things – no economic crisis can take you away from your early spring gardening, from your enjoyment of the season unfolding, from Easter egg hunts, and kite flying, or watching toddlers or fledgling birds explore their worlds.

Hold on to your health – you know the drill of exercise, nutrition, and rest. Look into natural remedies and holistic paths to wellness.

Hold on to your hobbies – you may have to pare things down a bit, but allow yourselves the joy of leisure, whether it be reading or running, birding or boating.
Hold on – to your quest for knowledge. Take a class, make a turn in your career path, or do that thing you’ve always wanted to do but put off until now.

Hold on – to your blessings, never losing sight of the good in life. Thank a veteran or a teacher, email a distant relative, compliment a job well done.

Hold on – to your resources. Rethink investments and remain calm. Recycle, reduce, reuse.

Hold on – to compassion and respect for others. Listen, don’t argue. Go out of your way to give aid or support to a senior citizen facing fears or illness.

Hold on – to celebrations of life and art and good people doing good things for the greater good.

Hold on – to your dreams. Don’t be afraid to finally start that home-based business [if Front Porch [as a local magazine, we’ve been around since 1997] had listened to the nay-sayers 12 years ago, we’d still be running the rat race wondering “what if…”].  

Hold on – to your life compass, letting it lead you to responsible changes of course, to downsizing if need be, and to simplifying your life [spending more time in a ball cap and jeans helps clear the head and refocus the heart].

Hold on – to your values and the guidance from your heart. Hold on to your faith and the strength you find within. Remember the less fortunate among us. Give food. Give blood. Give a kind word of hope to someone who is down.

It may be one of those times we must circle the wagons and pull together as Americans, but that should be easy for most of us, whose sense of unity is a proud expression of our patriotism. No one said it would always be easy, but we can all hold on to the simple things, the naturals things, the most important things. And we can all come out OK at the end of this crisis.

So hold on – take a deep breath! Laugh a good laugh! And sit a spell on your front porch swing while you embrace your life, day by day…

Grid and Bear It

March 2, 2009

Grid and Bear It

By Rob Grogan

02 March 2009

0730 hours-1130 hours

   With six inches of drifting snowfall, our BendingForest property [ye old antebellum Phillips House] looks like a winter wonderland. The downer is we are without power from 0730 hours to 1130 hours; 140,000 are still without power in Virginia.

   This is the umpteenth time in our 17 years here that we have lost power due to storms or squirrel activity. The typical outage for us lasts about four hours but after Hurricane Isabel, we were out 11 days. Year after year, we advise Dominion Power [nee Virginia Power] to bury the grid. The repairmen on the scene refer to the supervisor.

   The supervisor says it would come from another budget center within the company, not from repair, and that the company won’t do it. Verizon and Cox say basically the same things. All three companies are willing to have me pay thousands of dollars to get this done. It would be, they all say, to my benefit – no more downtime, wasted work hours, inconvenience; a small investment, they say, for long-term efficiency. Then comes the power company’s caveat that even then there would be problems and they’d have to dig up the ground to hunt for and pinpoint the source of an outage.

   I own an in-ground swimming pool and I know that if there is a leak, Greg Adam can bring in a piece of technology and locate the leak underneath the concrete pool deck without tearing the whole place up. Greg Adam is not Greg Adam, Inc or even Greg Adam, LLC.  He is simply a highly skilled, very experienced swimming pool contractor. He appears to be ahead of the curve that is occupied by the three large incorporated utility companies I deal with. [There are actually four, the other being Stafford County water and sewer. I never have a problem with this utility. Their work is buried underground.]

   All of this begs the question: How can a six-inch snowstorm knock 140,001 Virginia households out of power? My nephew’s house in Vienna, VA did not lose power. His utilities are buried underground.

  The next question is, what is the cost of a typical outage? For me, it is inconvenience and time lost. [When my ailing father was still alive and living here, it was, in winter, a more serious issue.]   For the power company, every outage is a measurable number of costly man-hours of labor, equipment costs, fuel and fleet expenses, and other ancillary costs.

   The third question is, why not fix the grid? Why not invest in renovation of the infrastructure? Why not bury the damn lines?  To do so would be, to paraphrase the utility company, “an investment in long-term efficiency.” That seems to be good advice when they aim it at me, but not conversely.

   But as MSNBC’s Chris Matthews would say, “Let’s play Hardball” on this, so why don’t I  bite the bullet and pay for the submersion of my utilities?  This is something I wish I could afford to do — a luxury, many people would say. But I am not in the utility business; my budget is spoken for – mortgage, insurance, education, taxes, food and household needs, utility bills, transportation, and healthcare costs. The utility companies cry poor, too, but they are the utility business, and just as much as I expect the car companies to develop fuel-efficient cars, I expect the utility companies to develop more reliable and efficient power systems.

   And even if I did pay to bury my lines, what happens when a transformer blows somewhere along the power grid, up on some utility pole along state route 218?  My investment would still be dependent on the rest of the grid system. Besides, my money has to go to “family policy” rather than to energy policy.

   The energy policy of the Bush administration emphasized oil. The Obama administration wants to go green, with investments in alternative, renewable energy sources, and the renovation of the infrastructure. I’m in favor of the green team. President Obama could even call on Greg Adam and leave Dominion Power wondering what happened.

   Until then, I have to grid and bear it.