A piece of the Rock

I enjoy walking down to Riverbottom Park, just off the Shelbyville square on the banks of the Duck River. Most days, I’ll get out of the office and walk from the Times-Gazette to the square, then from the square down to Riverbottom Park, then back up to the square, stopping by First UMC on my way back to say hello to whoever’s in the office. On weekends, sometimes I will walk from my apartment up to Riverbottom Park and back.

I didn’t want to let my walking go by the wayside while I’m on temporary assignment here in Lewisburg. I’ve been walking every day, going in different directions from the square each day, exploring a little of the area near the square. This paid off on the very first day; I saw the marquee at First UMC Lewisburg advertising an appearance by H.K. Derryberry, whom I’d met only a week or two earlier and got a story out of it.

But it wasn’t until yesterday, after going in pretty much every other direction, that I stumbled across the Rock Creek Park greenway. I walked part of it yesterday and walked more of it today. I took about a 40-minute walk today and still didn’t cover all of it. What a treasure. I wish Shelbyville had a walking trail this long and this nice. I know that there was an original plan for a greenway that would run from the square to Never Rest Park, but they haven’t been able to get all of the necessary property or develop it. Well-maintained, well-designed, and beautiful, with benches and trash cans and a pedestrian bridge over the creek, and so on. Plenty of geese (not surprising, since there’s one of those coin-operated geese food vending machines near the pedestrian bridge). It’s convenient to the square.

While I’m over here, I’ll enjoy having that greenway for my daily walk. I just wish there was someplace to eat on the square. Shelbyville has four restaurants on or close to the square: Pope’s Cafe, Coffee Break, Bocelli’s and new arrival P&B’s Kitchen. Lewisburg has zero, although I found a Mexican restaurant just a little farther out.

Mom’s birthday

Today would have been my mother’s 75th birthday.


This is one of the last photos I have of her, with my sister Elecia at a party following my niece Jacey’s high school graduation in May 2010. She died of pancreatic cancer in August of that year. I am so sorry Mom won’t be around for Jacey’s wedding next month. I think of her often, as we all do – I’ll see something that she would have liked, and be instantly reminded of her.

In 2013 and 2014, I happened by pure chance to be working on Relay For Life stuff on Mom’s birthday, and this year I only missed it by a day (in either direction – I had Bark For Life yesterday, and Relay For Life committee meetings tomorrow night). Raising money for the American Cancer Society won’t bring my mother back, but maybe it will give a few more people some more days, months or years with their own mothers and fathers and spouses and children.

Value the time you have with the people you love. You never, ever know which meeting will be your last.

A tale of two cities

It has been a long day — I spent the first half of it working for one newspaper, and the second half of it working for another. I will be filling in at the T-G’s sister paper, the Marshall County Tribune, for a few weeks while they’re short-staffed. I came in to the T-G as usual this morning and tried to get some loose ends tied up, then I went and worked at the Trib this afternoon. I rushed back to Shelbyville just in time (a few minutes late, actually, but they were still serving) for dinner at church.

Tomorrow, I’ll do the same thing in reverse — working at the Trib in the morning, then coming back through Shelbyville in the afternoon to take care of a feature interview I’d already scheduled before I knew about my temporary duties. From that point forward, I’ll be at the Trib most of the time, except on Monday mornings, when I’ll stop by the T-G and do my regular weekly hour at Learning Way Elementary. I’ll also cover a few after-hours assignments for the T-G.

I helped out at the Trib a couple of years ago, but that was just occasional assignments for a few weeks. This time, I’ll be putting in regular office hours. It’s a big change – I’ll have been at the T-G for 30 years this coming July, and so it’s a challenge to drop into a different newsroom and a community where I don’t know very many people.

I’m tired. I will sleep well tonight.

Getting my jim key on

4-BJK-AEDCLast August, during the Celebration, Kate Canady saw me on the grounds and came up to me to ask me if I would speak about Beautiful Jim Key at a meeting of the AEDC Women’s Club.

Kate’s husband, Brent, is a retired Navy captain; they’ve settled back in his home town of Shelbyville since his retirement, and Kate has gotten active in the AEDC club, which is associated with Arnold Engineering Development Complex, an Air Force (and Navy) research facility over in Coffee and Franklin counties. Kate said she wanted a to share a good Bedford County-related program with her fellow club members. It had just been announced that Morgan Freeman has agreed to play William Key in a movie adaptation of the story, and Kate thought this would make the program all the more interesting to her friends.

My first reaction was to turn her down – I’m no expert, just a newspaper reporter who’s happened to write a few stories about Beautiful Jim Key, quoting heavily from the real expert on the topic, author Mim Eichler Rivas. The ideal would be if they could get Mim to speak to them – but Mim lives in sunny Southern California, where she’s a successful author and her husband Victor is a busy actor.

I tried to think of someone else I could refer to Kate to do a BJK program and couldn’t come up with anyone. I told her I’d do it, but I was going to clearly present myself as an interested amateur, not an expert.

Kate got back to me later to tell me I’d been scheduled as the program for April. I’ll be speaking this coming Tuesday.

I’ve been making some notes on my program today. I’ve been re-reading Mim’s book, of course. I also ordered a copy of one version of Albert Rogers’ often-revised promotional booklet about the horse, and scanned the state library and archives’ web site for photos I could download. I meant to try to get someone to show me William Key’s grave at Willow Mount Cemetery, so I could take a photo of it, but I never got the chance. I do have photos of the marker at Beautiful Jim Key’s gravesite south of town.

If you’ve never heard the story, Beautiful Jim Key was perhaps the most famous horse in America at the turn of the 20th Century. William Key, a former slave who made a fortune selling patent medicine, taught the horse (an Arabian-Hambletonian) to spell, do math problems, respond to audience questions, and so on. Skeptics assumed (and still do today) that this was trickery, that somehow William Key was doing the spelling, secretly indicating to the horse which letter tile to pick up at a particular time. But a team of Harvard professors could find no evidence of such subterfuge. If it was a trick, it was a good one. Mim does not believe it was a trick.

A promoter named Albert Rogers – equal parts showman and idealist — hooked up with William Key and his horse and promoted them in appearances around the country. (The movie is still trying to nail down its financing, but Clive Owen has agreed to play Albert Rogers opposite Morgan Freeman.) The appearances stressed William Key’s gentle training methods (today we would call him a “horse whisperer”) and often raised money to launch or support some sort of local humane association in that city. Millions of children and adults joined the “Jim Key Band of Mercy,” a fan club, by signing a pledge to be kind to animals.

The horse’s successes were bracketed by two great World’s Fair-type events. Jim Key performed for President William McKinley at the Tennessee Centennial Exposition of 1897, and then was seen by millions at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904, the fair memorialized in the song “Meet Me In St. Louis.” Mim opens the book with the story of Alice Roosevelt, daughter of then-president Teddy Roosevelt, seeing the horse at the fair in St. Louis. William Key asked Jim to spell Alice’s name, and the horse mistakenly – but prophetically – appended the last name of her escort and future husband, Nicholas Longworth.

I enjoy talking about this often-overlooked piece of Bedford County history. I hope I can do it justice on Tuesday.

T-shirt question

OK, all of the laundry experts out there ….

As referenced in a video blog post a week or two ago, the Relay For Life organizing committee (as well as all of our team captains) received their T-shirts much earlier than usual this year. In the past, those T-shirts were given out right before Relay. They would be worn for the first time at Relay and would then become a fond souvenir for repeat wearings after the fact.

This year, however, we’ve gotten our T-shirts several months early, and are being encouraged to wear them at preliminary events – like today’s Celebrity Waiter Luncheon – and in other situations where we might want to promote Relay.

WP_20150317_001In a happy coincidence, our committee shirts are green, so several of us, including me, wore them to today’s luncheon, which happened to fall on Saint Patrick’s Day.

This photo was taken in advance. I promise I wasn’t quite this sweaty during the actual luncheon.

Anyway, the point is, I wore the shirt today – and will probably wear it again, for things like Bark For Life or the Times-Gazette’s Community-Wide yard Sale.

But I still want it to look nice on June 5, when the actual Relay gets here.

I hand-washed the shirt in cold water tonight. Was that a good idea, or overkill? What else can I do to keep the shirt in good shape between now and June?

uncle walt’s archives

When the Disney Channel first went on the air, it was a premium channel, not ad-supported, although not every cable system charged for it. It was aimed at the whole family. Some offered it for free, as a way of boosting subscriptions. And it was originally conceived, in part, as a way of leveraging the huge vault of content the Disney company had acquired over the years, some of which hadn’t been seen in years.

As time went on, of course, the channel’s emphasis shifted, and now the Disney Channel is mostly about new content, some animated, some live action. There are several different channels, all aimed at kids — The Disney Channel is aimed slightly more at girls, while Disney XD is slightly more for boys, and there’s a separate channel for younger kids. But it’s kind of a shame that there’s no full-time showcase for some of that older material.

So it’s nice that Disney now has a deal with Turner Classic Movies to occasionally showcase older Disney content, in a Sunday-night package hosted by Leonard Maltin. It’s been running tonight, with a mix of movies, cartoon shorts and Disney TV episodes. I just wish there was some way to see some of that content more often. I also wonder what Walt would think about the fact that, with all of the channels owned by ABC and Disney, this material has to find a home on someone else’s channel.

Still plodding along

Well, back in December I mused about starting another self-published book – not a novel, like my first book, but a collection of essays – some rewritten from favorite sermons I’ve preached, others taken from content on the blog, others original to the book.

I have not forgotten this – I open up the file every now and then and tinker with it. I need to buckle down and set myself a schedule. I did do something today that I should have done to begin with – I set the project up as a master document in LibreOffice, so that I can more easily work on and organize the individual essays as I see fit. This should make things a lot easier, and it makes the project a little less intimidating.

I have thought about calling the book “Spiritual Secrets of the Frisbee®,” after one of the essays, based on content I used both for a sermon and for a devotional at Mountain T.O.P. I need to check with a college friend of mine who’s an intellectual property attorney and see if I can do this, and if so, what sort of disclaimers I need to include so that the Wham-O people are satisfied. I am afraid that the Wham-O people might want me to include the word “disc,” as in “Frisbee® disc,” and that just wouldn’t read the same. Of course, maybe another title will occur to me between now and whenever I finish working on the thing.

I guess self-publishing is the ultimate act of hubris. I’m not Bible scholar or even an ordained minister. Who’s going to be interested in my not-so-deep spiritual insights? But I like the way the book has been going so far, and publish-on-demand means one can, for better or worse, self-publish with very little risk. It also means that many people can and do self-publish, which makes it harder to get noticed.

Tomorrow’s entree

chili_9000_jarI was at Walmart this evening and ran into my co-worker Jason Reynolds. He noticed that I looked like I had some specific items in my basket and asked me what was for dinner tonight. I told him that I was going to church for dinner tonight – but tomorrow night, I’m making chili.

I’ve been anxious to make chili ever since receiving some items from Penzey’s a few weeks ago, and this is the first real chance I’ve gotten. Unfortunately, Walmart still didn’t have any chili grind beef. So I bought a pound of pork stew meat on manager’s special, just to save a little money, and a pound of beef stew meat at full price. Tomorrow, I’ll cut them up into smaller bits.

As I explained in another recent post, chili grind meat or small chunks of meat are better than regular ground meat in long, slow-cooked, Texas-style chili recipes. This will not actually be a slow-cooked chili, though – at least, not according to the clock on the wall. I’m going to warp time by using the kitchen equivalent of a TARDIS: my pressure cooker.

I will use the basic parameters from Alton Brown’s pressure cooker chili recipe, although I won’t use his exact ingredient list. The chili powder I got from Penzey’s (they make several different kinds) is Chili 9000, which is a little non-traditional, and I want to enjoy it, so I’m using a little more of the chili powder than Alton calls for and eliminating a couple of other things.

I’m already looking forward to it.

spice update

I posted here a week or two ago about Penzey’s Spices. I had just placed an order – most of which was a gift for a family member, but I took the opportunity to order a couple of things for myself. I got Penzey’s taco seasoning for the first time, and made tacos with it today. Yum. I also have some Chili 9000 – one of several different chili powders they offer – and I’ll be using that some time soon. Walmart was out of chili grind meat today, unfortunately.

I have eaten on a weird schedule today – my biggest meal, those tacos, was sort of in mid-afternoon. So I was a little peckish just now and wanted a snack. I have a loaf of my homemade sourdough bread, and I decided for some weird reason to make cinnamon toast. I have cinnamon, of course, but then I remembered I also had a little bitty jar of Penzey’s apple pie spice. I never ordered it – it was a little “thank you” gift with a previous order, maybe a year ago. It’s mostly two different kinds of cinnamon, but with some nutmeg and clove. I did make an apple pie with it – my first ever – which turned out quite well.

So I made cinnamon toast with the apple pie spice. Unfortunately, I walked away and burned it just a little, but it’s still edible, and the apple pie spice gives it a nice interesting flavor.


Today was national Read Across America day, although various schools may celebrate the whole week (or next week, if they have some sort of testing or other conflict). My experience as a guest reader at a couple of different elementary schools, reading Dr. Seuss to the kids, was one of the things that prompted me to sign up for the “Raise Your Hand Tennessee” program, for which I’ve been a volunteer more than two years now.

I’ve told you this several times before, but when I first signed up for “Raise Your Hand,” I think one of those “Read Across America” appearances was sort of what I had envisioned. That wasn’t what it turned out to be at all, of course. In Regan Aymett’s first grade class at Learning Way Elementary, I am usually leading a small group of kids through some sort of simple game or worksheet, rotating small groups a few different times during the hour.

I love it. I miss it when I don’t get to be there – such as the past two weeks. Two weeks ago was Presidents’ Day, and last week the schools were out due to weather. So it had been three weeks since I’d been with the kids.

I arrived this morning at my usual time, but that was also the same time as one of those once-a-year Read Across America volunteers. So I sat there and waited as he read “Green Eggs and Ham” to the kids. I took a photo with my smartphone so that I could get it into the newspaper. To be completely honest, I was a little jealous, although my personal preference would have been “Fox In Socks.” Does that make me a bad person?

After he left, we went into our normal routine. I ended up working with three different groups of kids during what was left of our normal time. We were doing a couple of worksheets. On one worksheet, the kids had to figure out which letter was silent in various words and mark through it. The groups were progressively better as the hour went along – the first group really needed me to walk them through it, and even then they didn’t always get it. The last group could have done it by themselves while I was down the hall.

The last group included one kid who’s become one of my favorites this year – which is not to say he’s not frustrating some of the time. He immediately started by asking if the boy next to him could copy off his paper – “He’s a new student,” explained my friend. I explained that, no, each person had to do their own worksheet. (The newcomer did just fine without copying off anyone.) My friend did fine, too, but he insisted on announcing each of his answers as he wrote them on the worksheet. I kept trying to tell him not to do that, but it went in one ear and out the other. And, no, he wasn’t feeding answers to the new student, who was working at his own pace. I think he was just serving as his own play-by-play announcer.

I really enjoy my weekly hour working with the kids, but it leaves me with a lot of deep admiration for the talented, dedicated, highly-trained and often-unappreciated professionals who work with these kids day in and day out.

Oh, the other thing that happened this morning was that when I first checked in at the office, the secretary told me that Regan and her kids might still be in the gym. What was going on in the gym, you might ask? A visit from the Chik-fil-A cow. Sadly for me, the first graders were actually on their way back to the classroom by the time I caught up with them, and so I missed seeing the cow.

As I think about it tonight, I wonder – is it really a good idea to expose first graders to signs reading “EAT MOR CHIKIN”? I mean, learning to spell is hard enough as it is….