Buzzworm news briefs

Help for homeless veterans

About one-third of the adult homeless population has served in the armed forces, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. On any given day, says the agency, as many as 250,000 veterans are living on the streets or in shelters, and perhaps twice as many experience homelessness at some point during the course of a year. According to 2002 estimates, there are about 200 homeless veterans in the Asheville area.

Through a grant program called “A Vet’s Place: No One Left Outside the Wire,” the VA is providing $15 million annually to 80 public and private nonprofit groups — including the Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministry — to assist homeless veterans.

“The whole purpose is reintegration [of veterans] back into society,” explains Sylvia Portenier, who coordinates the local VA’s program for homeless vets.

ABCCM will be offering a range of assistance, including transitional housing, job training, case-management services, group and individual counseling, money-management and life-skills training, and substance-abuse services.

ABCCM is located at 207 Coxe Ave. in Asheville. For more information, call Portenier at 298-7911, ext. 5439, or ABCCM at 259-5300.

— Lisa Watters

If you build it, they will play

Grab yourself a hammer and nails — along with some community spirit — and take part in an old-fashioned “barn-raising” to create a new playground at Azalea Park. A five-day building blitz is scheduled for Wednesday, April 28 through Sunday, May 2, and Asheville Parks and Recreation is seeking more than 1,000 volunteers to help make it happen. Volunteers will tackle a variety of tasks, including hammering, sawing, painting, digging, raking, helping with childcare and working in the kitchen.

There are three volunteer shifts each day: 8 a.m. to noon, 12:30-5 p.m. and 5:30-9 p.m. Besides being well-fed while on duty, all volunteers will receive T-shirts. Childcare is available for kids under 12.

This will be the fourth playground-raising in the city, following on the heels of successful efforts at Jones School, Jake Rusher Park and French Broad River Park IV. The Azalea Park facility was designed with assistance from students at Haw Creek and Bell elementary schools and Evergreen Charter School.

For more information, or to register or donate food, visit the Asheville Parks and Recreation Web site ( and link to Azalea Park Playground Build, or call 259-5800.

— Lisa Watters

Old-time fun

Feeling spring in your blood? Feel like kicking up your heels? The 14th annual Johnson Farm Festival offers a chance to do both while celebrating our area’s mountain heritage. The event happens Saturday, April 24, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the historic Henderson County farm (3346 Haywood Road).

The festival will feature more than 25 booths showcasing traditional crafts, such as making fiddles and split-bottom chairs, beekeeping and cooking with cast iron. There’ll also be old-time and bluegrass music, square-dance demonstrations, lots of kids activities, and food booths featuring everything from old-fashioned, homemade pound cake to barbecue to a “poor man’s plate” of beans and corn bread. Visitors can also take a guided house tour, walk the nature trails, ride in a horse-drawn wagon and see the farm animals (including miniature horses).

The 15-acre Historic Johnson Farm is on the National Register of Historic Places; it features an 1870s-vintage boarding house, a barn-loft museum, 10 historic buildings, and acres of fields, forests and streams.

Festival admission is $5/adults, $3/kids (free for those under age 5). This covers the tours, wagon rides, demonstrations and entertainment. All proceeds go toward education-and-restoration projects at the farm. Meals, beverages, crafts and souvenirs will be for sale at the booths.

For more information, visit, or call 891-6585.

— Lisa Watters

Keeping it clean

Knowledge is a powerful tool. That’s why Source Water Assessment reports have so much potential to help protect our drinking water. Mandated by a 1996 amendment to the 1974 federal Safe Drinking Water Act, these reports provide basic information about both where drinking water comes from and how much it may be affected by potential sources of contamination.

These reports will soon be available online for all public water systems in North Carolina. In the meantime, however, a two-day, hands-on conference — “Protecting Your Drinking Water at its Source” — will give participants a chance to explore strategies for protecting drinking-water sources and building local partnerships. They’ll also hear success stories and learn about funding opportunities.

The event happens Friday, April 30 and Saturday, May 1 at Hollifield Leadership Center on Lake Hickory (a drinking-water source). Participants are encouraged to bring a canoe and enjoy a little Saturday-afternoon paddling.

The conference costs $75 per person (including all meals and snacks). Double-occupancy rooms are available at Hollifield on Friday night for an additional $30 per person.

For more information or to register, visit the Clean Water for North Carolina Web site (, or call 251-1291, 251-1851 or (800) 929-4480.

— Lisa Watters

Anti-blast from the past

The 1980s brought a new understanding of the threat posed by nuclear war. Before that time, based largely on interpretation of the aftermath in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the danger was primarily assessed in terms of immediate destruction and radiation poisoning coupled with the effects of lingering radioactivity. To many military planners, the result of such analysis was that a nuclear war was winnable — hence thinkable, if messy. The only problem was delivering enough warheads quickly enough to obliterate the other nation first. This led to the policy known as Mutually Assured Destruction, a balance of terror that rested on the inability of either superpower to be certain of an early knock-out.

Enter nuclear winter. As faster supercomputers permitted more and more complex modeling of Earth’s systems, scientists realized that a full scale nuclear exchange would probably throw so much particulate matter into the atmosphere that the planet would plunge into a temporary ice age, killing most higher life forms. Winnable nuclear wars became moot.

Dr. Helen Caldicott, founding president of Physicians for Social Responsibility and a founder of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, was one of the leading voices informing the world of that new understanding. Her crusading efforts helped lead the nuclear nations to new treaties dealing with non-proliferation, anti-ballistic missiles and offensive warhead reductions. Nuclear winter figured in Gorbachev’s perestroika and ushered in a new era in international relations.

The Bush administration has announced it will build a new generation of smaller nuclear weapons that will make nuclear warfare “thinkable” again, and Caldicott has returned to her anti-nuclear mission. She will be in Asheville this week for events under the auspices of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, a national non-profit activist organization. The public is invited to a lecture on Tuesday April 27, 7 p.m., Unitarian Universalist Church, Asheville.

For more info, phone Mary Olson at 675-1792.

— Cecil Bothwell


Spirit on the light side

“Menopause,” says Diane English matter-of-factly when I ask her what inspired her to start The Great Cosmic Happy Ass Card Company several years ago.

“You think I’m joking, don’t you?” she says when I laugh.

No, I just already love her answers to my journalistically phrased questions.

English used to own a metaphysical bookstore in St. Augustine, Fla., she explains. Customers would come in and say, “Diane, you have to read The Artist’s Way — you have to read this book you’re selling.”

English put off heeding their advice for years, but when she finally did, she reports, “I was mesmerized.”

After following the book’s 12-week program, English went on to start teaching it to others, noting: “It changed my life totally about art. It really showed me that the concepts I had about making a living at art were totally wrong.”

She’d been reluctant to go to art school, she explains, because of all the technical stuff she’d be required to learn. “That’s not what I really wanted to do; all I really wanted to do is cartoon.”

Inspired by some local artwork she saw on a trip to San Francisco, and without any formal training (“I’m just homegrown,” she notes), English created her first magnet and displayed it in her store.

When it sold, “I thought, ‘Aha! There’s something here,'” she recalls.

Next, English turned to designing and printing greeting cards using the store’s computer. When they sold — and kept on selling — her mind was made up.

“By this time, I had about reached the end of the bookstore experience and wanted to do something new,” she explains. “So, as with everything else I do, I decided just to jump off the cliff and do it — to make a living doing cartoons.”

English had heard about Asheville’s diverse artistic community, and toward the end of 1999 she and her partner visited the area. Three months later, after selling the business, they moved here. English has been giving her new endeavor her full attention ever since.

Her cards, which she says are “for the marginally enlightened and the spiritually challenged,” are inspired by her own metaphysical interests — 14 years with her bookstore plus an even longer-running hunger to learn about spirituality.

Some cards are truly inspiring or affirming; others are laugh-out-loud funny. “If we don’t laugh at ourselves, if we can’t laugh at our spirituality,” says English, “then, you know, forget it!”

Four years down the line, the artist’s cards are sold all over the country and even overseas (her work is also available on magnets, T-shirts, mouse pads, mugs and prints). What’s more, she just landed a three-year licensing contract with Cavania Cards in the United Kingdom.

Up till now, English has handled every aspect of her business herself with only occasional help, so she’s hoping to get more such contracts, especially in the United States, which would free her up to spend more time creating. “It will come in its own time,” she observes.

As for her success, English proclaims, “If I can do it anybody can. I’m a little old lady who works out of her garage. Maybe not so little — but old, yes!”

And how does menopause play into all this?

“It gives you a chance to look at your life — and where you want to go from here” she explains. “Do I want to spend the rest of my life in a bookstore? No. It was a wonderful experience — and I was ready for something new. And this was it.”

If you’d like to see English in action and learn more about her work, you can catch her on the Weaverville Safari (she designed the poster and logo), slated for Saturday and Sunday, April 24-25. (You can find out more about the local arts tour in this week’s Smart Bets.)

English’s cards can be found at Sensibilities, Essential Arts, the French Broad Food Co-op, Lola, Interiors Marketplace and Legacies in Asheville; Seven Sisters Gallery in Black Mountain; the Unity Center of Christianity in Fletcher; and Earth Works in Waynesville — or at her Web site (

— Lisa Watters

A savory bit of giving

Good works and good eats are about to share a table again. The second-annual Dining Out For Life, to benefit the Western North Carolina AIDS Project, will be held on Thursday, April 29.

And not just at Asheville restaurants this time.

For out-of-town WNCAP supporters who drove many miles last year to literally fill their bellies for charity, here’s some tasty bit of news: Several eateries in Arden, Black Mountain, Hendersonville, Waynesville and Weaverville have joined the 2004 effort. In all, 45 restaurants across WNC are currently slated take part, donating 20 percent of that day’s receipts to the local HIV/AIDS service organization.

In Arden: The Boathouse at Lake Julian.

Asheville: The list is simply too long; visit the Dining Out for Life International Web site (, follow the “Cities” link to Asheville and then look for “Participating Restaurants.”

Black Mountain: Enchanted Garden Cafe.

Hendersonville: Expressions; Gypsy Cab Company.

Waynesville: Lomo Grill; Panacea Coffeehouse and Roastery.

Weaverville: Stoney Knob Cafe.

Again this year, trained WNCAP “ambassadors” will be on hand at participating restaurants to greet diners, all of whom will be entered to win two round-trip tickets to anywhere Air Tran flies. (The drawing will be held at an after-party at Tressa’s Downtown Jazz & Blues beginning at 9 p.m.)

The inaugural local Dining Out event, which included 27 Asheville restaurants, raised more than $25,000 for WNCAP in 2003.

“I think we had about 3,000 diners last year,” revealed Harry Brown, WNCAP’s fund-raising chairman. “Asheville did better than five other cities that had been doing the event for a couple of years.

“It’s a natural event here,” Brown continued. “For the size of the city, the number of good restaurants is astonishing.”

Asheville is among 30 cities chartered to take part in Dining Out For Life, which is now scheduled nationwide for the last Thursday in April. No other North Carolina cities are taking part; the closest location is Atlanta. Official Dining Out For Life events have now raised more than $10 million for HIV/AIDS service organizations in the United States and Canada.


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