TRD New Academy Director Jaime Simpson – Keeping Creative Energy Present

Words and Images courtesy of Jaime Simpson.

About two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to teach one of our TRDance students a virtual private lesson. She was at home, I was at the TRDance Center, and we were each logging in to Zoom to embark on an hour and a half ballet lesson. I had everything set up and had admitted her from the “waiting room.” Her video and audio came on, we smiled and happily said our greetings. What she said next definitely got my attention… she said, “This is the first time I’ve been able to see your whole face!” 

I had my mask off for this lesson since I was the only person in the studio, and I had the door shut. She had started taking classes at TRD earlier this summer, and until that particular lesson, she had only ever seen me with a mask on. I said, “Wow, that’s true! I didn’t realize that!” We smiled at each other again and started dancing. 

I have thought about that moment several times since. About how much has changed… in the dance world and everywhere. 

At TRDance specifically, many adjustments have been made to keep opportunities to dance and perform going, with health and safety being of utmost importance: we have specific cleaning processes in place; a mask policy for dancers, staff, and guests; limited class sizes; temperature checks; and more. We are offering many of our classes as hybrid options, giving dancers the opportunity to join the class virtually from home. In addition, all classes are set up so that they can shift to be fully virtual if we need to do so temporarily; the instructors are all experienced with teaching virtually and are ready to transition if that becomes necessary. 

In my third month as Academy Director, I have many goals. The most prominent of which, for the foreseeable future, is to keep as many dancers dancing as possible, as safely as possible. The art of dance has such an uplifting and healing effect, infusing joy and vibrancy into the spirit. It is so important to keep that creative energy present and glowing. Our Fall Structured and Open Class Programs are underway, and I am excited to announce that we have just added three new classes to the Open Program. In November, we will be holding weekend Master Classes in various dance styles. 

We are also currently building our new Pod-Style Dance Class Program which offers dance classes to children who are already working within a pod group for academics and other activities. These classes take place in the afternoon, prior to our evening Open and Structured Program classes. 

Regarding Academy performances, the Todd Rosenlieb Dance Ensemble and Virginia Ballet Theatre Ensemble came together this summer for a successful Virtual Solo Concert made up of 12 newly choreographed solos. Though the process was unique for the Ensemble groups, the dancers and choreographers were thrilled to be creating, and the results were everything that was hoped for. The Ensembles will soon be moving into rehearsals for another virtual show to be presented in December. 

Though so much has changed, I believe two things will always remain the same – the passion for dance, and the desire to dance. Dancers, instructors, choreographers, and directors here at TRD and everywhere are ready and willing to navigate this new path and adjust as needed to be able to safely move forward with this art form. I am at the TRDance Center every day, and every day I see the sparkle 

of excitement in the dancers’ eyes as they arrive for classes. And though their masks may keep me from seeing their smiles, I know that they are there. 

For general information on TRDance, please visit
For specific information on class programs or Ensembles, please email Jaime Simpson at
If you would like to make a donation to support TRDance, please visit

Jaime Simpson began her ballet training at age 6, with opportunities to study at the Virginia Beach Ballet Academy, Maryland Youth Ballet, North Carolina School for the Arts, and Richmond Ballet. She then received her Bachelor’s Degree in Ballet Performance from Indiana University, training with Patricia McBride, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, and Violette Verdy. Jaime began teaching ballet while at IU, working with college students as well as students in the youth program. Since returning to Hampton Roads in 2005, Jaime has taught all levels of ballet and pointe at several area schools, and has choreographed ballet pieces for VBBA, Arts Enter Cape Charles, TRDance Center, and the VBT Ensemble.

100 Posts!

Words and Image by BA Ciccolella.

We are so excited to announce that after nearly 7 months, we have reached our 100th post on our website! Most of you know that Spotlight News – Hampton Roads was founded by members of the Theatre Reviewers section of the old AltDaily website. We became an official organization with the state of Virginia and purchased our URL on March 7, 2020, and our original business plan was to take it slow, and to use the reviews that we already had scheduled as our content while we reached out to local writers and slowly expanded to cover all other community content. I’m sure you all remember what happened on or about March 15, 2020 which caused us to have to throw that original business plan right out the window.

After taking a deep breath and reassessing the situation, we decided that though the universe was pushing us into the deep end before we had planned to be ready, we were going to swim. We had some long brainstorming sessions, started reaching out to community members and writers that we knew, and now Spotlight News has a private writer’s group of around 30 people on Facebook, including some of our amazing regular contributors, and also a private group of over 75 community supporters. We have elected officers, and are looking for 3 more board members this year. Apart from myself, we now have 5 other editors training to assist with website posts and social media. We are working on getting some regular columnists coordinated, and even on a possible comics section! Our business meetings are organized though our community supporters Facebook page, so if you are interested in helping, come join the group!

We have received our 501c3 status from the IRS, and we are working on the rest of the registrations needed before we can apply for grants and request donations. We hope to be able to keep expanding, and eventually pay people to edit the site, to write articles, and to manage our social media. We firmly believe that all of the skills that it takes to put together this website are valuable, and we want to work towards the financial stability where we can pay our artists, our writers, and our basic staff to keep the organization running smoothly, and continue to bring you Hampton Roads community news by our own community members.   

Regarding content, we have covered nearly 100 different community organizations, restaurants, subjects, and local persons of interest. We have covered art, bugs, dance, education, film, gaming, gardening, health, music, nature, restaurants, theatre, writers, and more! We want to thank every single organization that has worked with us and supported our efforts so far, every single person we have interviewed, every single person (or organization) who has supplied photographs, images, or videos, and every single person who has shared our Facebook posts – we would not be able to do what we do without you. 

We would be remiss not to thank (by name) Penny Neef, Louise Casini Hollis, Moriah Joy, Denise Bishop, Chris Bernhardt, Frank Connelly, and Aliki Marie Pantas Semones for really holding the company together these past seven months. From writing, to editing, to business work, to technical assistance, to social media coordination, Spotlight is a community news website that is currently run by a community of volunteers. 

If you are interested in becoming a member of our community, please contact us either by sending us a Facebook message, or emailing us here describing your interest! We are looking for board members, writers, editors, social media managers, or maybe you have an idea for something else we haven’t even thought of yet! If you don’t think you have the time for that kind of commitment, you can help us immensely by reacting to our posts and sharing our links on Facebook to help us grow our page and our community!

Again, thank you all for all of your support, and here’s to the next 100 posts!

Rainbow sequined background with two cartoon wine glasses that says to 100 more... cheers! with the spotlight logo in the top right corner.

Outdoor Cèilidh in the Time of Covid

Words by Penny Neef.
Image courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival.

The Virginia Arts Festival continues the quest for safe, live performances this fall, while the weather is still cooperative in Hampton Roads. There is a charming Courtyard directly behind the VAF’s Clay and Jay Barr Education Center on Bank Street in downtown Norfolk.

On Saturday, October 10, the VAF and the Virginia International Tattoo will present Courtyard Cèilidh on the outdoor stage in the Courtyard. 

What is a Cèilidh, you might ask? How do you even say it? Cèilidh is pronounced Kay-Lee. It is a traditional Gaelic party that would include poetry, storytelling Celtic music and dancing. It translates from the Old Irish as “companion visit”. There are not a lot of parties and companion visits going on these days, but VAF is able to keep family groups apart, sanitize, limit the number of tickets sold, and provide lots of fresh air to keep it as safe as possible.

Performers will include Rhodes Academy of Irish Dance, US National champion Scottish fiddlers Seán Heely and Colin McGlynn, and Tidewater Pipes and Drums.

Chris Pearcy, the Pipe Major of Tidewater Pipes and Drums calls the Courtyard Cèilidh, a “mini Tattoo”. If you’ve never attended the Virginia International Tattoo in the spring as part of the Virginia Arts Festival, you have missed something spectacular. A Tattoo is a large gathering of military bands. The Virginia International Tattoo brings bands from across the world to Scope Arena each year for the largest Tattoo in North America. 

Here are the Massed Pipes and Drums of the 2019 Tattoo

Pearcy will be bringing 10 bagpipers and 8 drummers to the small stage in the Courtyard. Ten pipers are still a big sound. 

Tidewater Pipes and Drums are one of the original bands of the Virginia International Tattoo. They perform at Scope each year. Pearcy says they love meeting and performing with other pipe bands from around the world. They were disappointed when Covid forced VAF to cancel the Tattoo this year, but the pandemic also made Pearcy’s group “realize how much they missed practicing together and playing together”.

In March, April and May, the band did one-on-one work with technique and expression through Zoom calls. Pearcy is also a professor at ODU, teaching mostly European history to freshmen. He worried at the beginning of the pandemic that the members of Tidewater Pipes and Drums would lose their skills.

By the time June rolled around, the band was “itching to get out there and do something together”. They began practicing outdoors and 6 feet apart. Pearcy was thrilled that “people did not forget how to play.” In fact, they were better than ever. “Covid has been a big rebuilding phase for our group,” Peacy says, “We sound like one great, big bagpipe.” That’s a good thing, if you’re a pipe and drum group.

October 10th will be the group’s first time performing together since St. Patrick’s Day, oh so long ago. Even though the Courtyard Cèilidh will be barely 1/100th of the size of the “big” Tattoo, it will still be great to hear the sounds of the bagpipes, Scottish fiddles and see the high stepping of Rhodes Academy of Irish Dance.

Re-Opening Norfolk – Norfolk City Manager’s Post-COVID Call to Action

Words by Denise Bishop.
Image courtesy of Downtown Norfolk Council.

If you’re anything like me, you don’t remember all of the specifics about when things occurred in Spring 2020. Starting in mid-March, I just have a vague, blurred sense that everything started getting cancelled, one by one, until every demographic felt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic spread across the region: office workers, parents & teachers, concert-goers, sports fans. One minute I was working from home, and the next I was heading back to the office as Phase 1 began.

During that time, however- especially the last week of Phase Zero- one group was working around the clock to help reopen one of our cities: OpenNorfolk. As their website states, “OpenNorfolk is a boots-on-the-ground community assistance program through the City of Norfolk that is helping local businesses open safely under The Governor’s Phase 1-3 Guidelines.”

Working with their partners (the City of Norfolk, WPA Architects, Yard & Company, and Team Better Block) and the Downtown Norfolk Council, OpenNorfolk began with an incredible push to assist local restaurants reopen for seating (outdoor only, at the time). City streets and parking spaces were turned into patio seating; free parking was added on Boush Street downtown to offset the loss of metered parking on Granby and to encourage visitors to dine at Norfolk restaurants; and a blanket Letter of Permit was sent to Virginia ABC law enforcement so these new outdoor seating areas could be approved to serve alcohol. This was no small feat: the idea for OpenNorfolk was pitched and approved on May 11. Phase 1 began on May 15. 

Groups of volunteers built patios and parklets, set up bike racks and other partitions to mark outdoor dining areas, stenciled sidewalks (“Do your part keep 6 feet apart”, reads one) and distributed laminated signage to Norfolk restaurants. I should note that, while I heard about this initiative through the Downtown Norfolk Council (I’m a member of the Downtown100 and receive their newsletters), this was city-wide. Ocean View, Riverview, 35th Street, and Ghent were included in the initial push.

In late August, I attended a virtual forum through the Downtown100 with Mel Price from WPA Architects and Norfolk City Planner George Homewood. I was very excited to learn more about OpenNorfolk and the hard work it took to get up and running and how big the project has become. There are now 20,000 square feet of parklets throughout the city. The OpenNorfolk restaurant guide took 60 pages of government rules and turned it into just 3. And with the help of three hired interns from the community and almost $100,000 in volunteer services, three new Neighborhood Spots were envisioned and built in St. Paul’s (partnered with Teens with a Purpose), Five Points (including a Food Bank pantry and pop-up local vendors), and Broad Creek (including mobile haircuts, yoga, and virtual learning workshops with Norfolk Public Schools).

I really enjoyed hearing Price and Homewood talk about the use of rapid implementation in this process. Rather than spend months and years researching and doing market studies, they had to get it out there first and then see what worked. It gave them the opportunity to experiment, to see what could be made permanent. And it also allowed them to be more confident in their successes.

In early September, I attended the Downtown Norfolk Council’s first (virtual) monthly Member Briefing since the pandemic struck in March. The guest speaker was Norfolk’s new City Manager, Dr. Larry H. “Chip” Filer, II. By launching in the smart manner it did that sent a message of safety, Filer said, OpenNorfolk had a clear positive effect on restaurants and retail. The public response has been quite positive, residents and stakeholders are asking if parts of the initiative can become permanent. In addition, Norfolk’s hotel occupancy was strong, leading the 25 largest markets for 8 straight weeks. (More recently, Norfolk/Virginia Beach was the only one of the top 25 markets to exceed 60% occupancy for Labor Day weekend, according to For an urban area, our COVID-19 numbers have been low, and it helps that the city and downtown employers have made a commitment to telework options in order to keep people safe.

Later in the briefing, Filer shared his “Post-COVID-19 Call to Action” plan for Norfolk, a plan with four central points on which to focus once we are able to shift our focus away from COVID-19.

First, we need to create a family-friendly city. With telework on the rise, workers and their families can live anywhere and telework in New York or San Francisco. We want them to live here. In order to attract them, we will need to look into housing development and redevelopment (Is it all multifamily? Is it a mix? Is it single family but urban-feeling?). We will also need to increase walkability, bikeability, and yes even scooter-ability across the entire city, not only downtown. And finally, in order to attract families, we have to provide quality schools.

Second, he would like to create a culture of local business and land ownership across diverse industries. This would involve training and mentoring local business owners across a wide range of industries such as retail, food service, tech, and family/day care as well as training, mentoring, and funding for residents interested in land acquisition and development.

His third focus is to enhance Norfolk’s status as a university town. He referenced Campus 757, which is a talent development initiative of the Hampton Roads Workforce Council. Norfolk would need to further embrace its role in the “town and gown” university campus/partner city relationship it has with NSU, ODU, VWU, and TCC. This focus would also include an increase in offerings of arts, culture, and lifelong learning. “I don’t think we’re Boston,” Filer said, “but we can be great.”

Finally, he posits, Norfolk should focus on enhancing its status as an arts and culture hub. We should increase public-sponsored art across the city and invest in and enhance our arts facilities. We should work to attract an arts and culture workforce, the “creative class.”

Filer’s Post-COVID Call to Action is lofty and lengthy, it will not come to fruition without years of planning and hard work, but I’m glad he shared them with us. He seemed so passionate about how much potential Norfolk has to be successful on the other side of the pandemic. It was refreshing to join him dreaming far into the future instead of dreading tomorrow’s COVID numbers.

The next Downtown Norfolk Council (virtual) Member Briefing will be Wednesday, October 7 at 8:30am and will focus on returning to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Member Briefing is a benefit of Downtown Norfolk Council membership. However, in light of these novel times, the October Member Briefing will be open to non-members at no charge.” You can RSVP here to attend.

Do you have any great ideas to help Norfolk continue to open smoothly? As we transition into autumn, and subsequently winter, what do you want to see added, grown or stopped? Let them know here.

Are you under the age of 40 and live or work in Downtown Norfolk? You could be eligible to join the Downtown100! Visit their website for more information and scroll down for the Membership Application link.

Looking for a specific organization mentioned?
Downtown Norfolk Council:
City of Norfolk:
YARD & Company:
Team Better Block:
OpenNorfok’s photo gallery:

Norfolk Botanical Gardens Upcoming Events

Words by Penny Neef.
Images as credited. Feature image courtesy of
Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

The Norfolk Botanical Garden is my happy place. NBG never closed down in 2020. When the Covid pandemic reared its ugly head in Hampton Roads, NBG took an immediate right turn. They closed down their buildings. They went to online ticket sales with contactless entry. They cut back on hours, but never closed their gates.

The Garden is 175 acres of wide-open space. The flowers kept blooming. The turtles kept basking in the sun. The butterflies kept fluttering. I wrote all about it right here. NBG was my sanctuary the third week of March, when there was so much uncertainty and anxiety.

Well guess what? There is still so much uncertainty and anxiety, more than 6 months later. We’ve all adapted and adjusted, at least most of us. Virginia’s largest Botanical Garden has also adapted and adjusted. It is still my happy place. They’ve opened up the restrooms (thank you). The Marigold & Honey Café is open for limited hours. The Gift Shop is open with limited capacity. Ticket sales are still online. You can read the NBG “Commitment to Safety” here.

The botanical gardens, a statue in the middle of a brick walkway, bushes and plants surrounding it.
Photo courtesy of Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

Education is part of the mission of Norfolk Botanical Garden. NBG is offering a number of outdoor classes and other garden experiences, with social distance and safety considerations. There is Sunset Kayaking, outdoor yoga and Garden Walk and Talks, led by the horticultural staff.

There are also indoor classes for both children and adults. The complete calendar of classes and events, including flower arranging, worm composting, digital photography, and water colors are listed here.

It is a great advantage to be a NBG member. Classes and events are discounted for members and there are some members-only events. Information about NBG membership is here.

NBG also celebrates the arts. The Garden is hosting a series of three concerts for members only this fall. Artists from Virginia Opera will perform outdoors in the Garden’s Renaissance Court for an audience limited to 100 members. This is a beautiful area of the Garden that feels like it was transported from a castle in Europe.

The view from under a light up tree at the NBG Lights extravaganza, strings of small green and gold lights come up to a point about center of the image that glows bright white.
Photo courtesy of Penny Neef.

The Garden Staff are already wrapping the trees with over a million lightbulbs in preparation for the annual Garden of Lights extravaganza. This year it will be online ticket sales and drive-through only. Garden of Lights begins November 13 through January 2, nightly from 5:30 – 10:00. It’s an annual tradition in our family.

The wildly popular Lantern Asia will be back in April, 2021. If you’ve never seen this event? Display? Art installation? Not quite sure what you call it, because it’s all of that and more; it is not to be missed. If you have seen it in past years, it’s worth going again. Lantern Asia grows larger and more innovative every year.

The Asian Lanterns exhibit at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens, a lit up whale swims over lit up mushrooms and fish
Photo courtesy of Penny Neef.

There is always something new and different to see at Norfolk Botanical Garden. Something is always blooming, even in the dead of winter. Things are always happening. It is a big wide open, beautiful space, full of fresh air. You can be far away from anyone and enjoy it all. It will soothe your soul, guaranteed.

A Mom’s Adventure in Butterflies

Words by Louise Casini Hollis.
Images by Louise Casini Hollis and family.

We raised Monarchs!  No, not the kind that graduate from ODU, but Monarch butterflies. Our butterfly adventures began in 2004 when my daughter was 3 and I saw a suggestion on a parenting blog that raising butterflies was, “a great thing to do with your kids.” It sounded like a really cool opportunity (I never got to raise butterflies when I was a child), and it might earn me a bit of “Earth Mother cred”, a quality I severely lack. Never mind that she was only 3 – she’d still get into it!

So we ordered some Painted Lady caterpillars, and watched them grow, form their chrysalises, hatch, and then we released them in the backyard. It was a nice science experiment for the whole family and our eldest cat, Kokopelli, was fascinated by them.  His fascination inspired my first children’s book, Kokopelli and the Butterfly, which led to other children’s stories about Koko’s adventures. And thankfully, our daughter was intrigued.

caterpillars chomping on milkweed in their indoor habitat

Side-note: When my husband Brian and I were first married, I planted a little herb garden of basil, cilantro and sage on our apartment balcony. He loves to cook, so it was my way of showing my appreciation and encouraging his culinary talent. (I’m no fool!) Well, he thought it was such a great idea that he took over and cultivated a garden Julia Child would envy. A few years later we moved into our house and he tried to grow one of his favorite herbs: fennel. Well, novice gardeners that we were, we were appalled when large green hookah-smoking caterpillars colonized our beautiful fennel and ate it down to the nub. Those hookah smokers turned out to be Swallowtail caterpillars.

Well, that was a disappointment!  Fast-forward to the next year when I decided to beautify our yard, and bought some Lantana and Hyssop. I had seen Hummingbirds and butterflies feasting on those plants when we were out-and-about and wanted to attract them to our yard. Well, it worked and we had some very happy hummingbirds and butterflies visit us. Brian was pleased too, and found watching the bees and butterflies after a long day at work very relaxing. So what happened?  He started buying more plants. And MORE plants! He went plant crazy! And as a result, his green thumb has turned our yard into a pollinator sanctuary. “It’s really relaxing to just sit and watch the bees after a long day of work.  And I like helping our pollinators,” he’ll tell you. Now he plants fennel for the giant hookah smoking caterpillars, and has added Cinderella Swamp Milkweed for the Monarchs.  

Back to 2020: We ordered our Painted Ladies and some Ladybugs in June, and then late July Brian and our daughter noticed some caterpillars were happily gorging themselves on the milkweed. We’d already seen several Monarchs, but it was exciting to find 8 caterpillars on our milkweed! 

And then Hurricane Isaias came to town. Part of our “battening down the hatches” meant we got out the caterpillar habitat and brought our daughter’s precious Monarch caterpillars inside to make sure they didn’t get blown away. (They are under investigation as a possible endangered species, after all.) After Isaias blew through, I said we needed to let them back out. “Oh please Mommy,” my daughter begged, “can’t we raise the Monarchs?”

A caterpillar on the bottom of a milkweed leaf.

“No, they’re wild animals. We shouldn’t,” and I took the caterpillars out and released them back onto the milkweed. This was Mom Fail #1.

That night I saw a post on the Wild Birds group I follow on Facebook saying, “leave caterpillars on plants. It takes between 3,000-6,000 caterpillars to feed baby Carolina Chickadees.” I panicked. The next morning we checked the milkweed and there were only 2 caterpillars.  

What had I done!?!  My daughter’s beloved caterpillars could be in the belly of a baby bird! Little did I know that birds are actually not a problem for Monarch caterpillars. The Milkweed they eat acts as a toxin, so most birds tend to leave the caterpillars alone – Orioles and Grosbeaks are the only birds that have been observed to eat Monarch butterflies. According to Monarch Joint Venture, wasps, ants and spiders are dangerous to Monarch eggs and caterpillars, so one of those was probably the culprit. Nonetheless, before she could get upset, I said, “Hey Honey, if you really want to raise the caterpillars, let’s do it!”

“Yeah Mommy!  Thank you!”  (Hey, and I got some Mom cred as well!)  

“Well, this will be an adventure,” I thought. We loaded up the caterpillars and some milkweed and brought them inside, put them in the caterpillar habitat and hung it high up because our Delilah cat has bad manners when it comes to caterpillars. They make her CRAZY. She glowers at them. She HATES bugs in her house. She jumps and has tried to climb a habitat once. In short, she’s a cat.

Delilah, Louise's grey cat, sits on the edge of a table watching the caterpillars.

Let’s just say it was a long 2 weeks for Delilah.

Meanwhile our excited daughter became a Butterfly Expert Extraordinaire or B.E.E. She googled and researched and found out everything she could about Monarch Butterflies. She found that the different stages of caterpillar’s development are labeled as “instars”.

Watching the instars, it quickly became quite clear to me that Eric Carle’s children’s classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar wasn’t the fanciful tale I had romanticized it as, but rather a factual documentation of the destructive carnage just one caterpillar’s appetite could inflict. Milkweed was being ingested at an alarming rate – in just hours it was stripped bare to the stem. These caterpillars grew and Grew and GREW (and then grew some more). My husband and I took to pleading with them, “Please go into your chrysalis!  We’re running out of milkweed!” But they just kept eating and creating loads of frass. What is frass you ask? It’s the fancy name for insect poop. And no, they do not have the training or dignity of cats. There’s no covering up their frass. (Score one for Delilah cat.)

So, our sunroom was slowly becoming filled with gigantic green worms and their refuse. Oh butterflies, you are so charming. And our little B.E.E. does love you so.

So onward we went. They were fascinating little guys. The first time we saw one make his chrysalis was amazing. Brian took a video of it! Our little B.E.E. went to work researching every aspect of the butterfly’s life cycle and existence. She found that caterpillars actually shed their skins and then reconfigure themselves with enzymes called caspases over a 10-14 day period. How fascinating… and disturbing! 

Our B.E.E. also found that once butterflies emerge from their chrysalises, they hang from them for a while. While they are hanging, they pump fluid from their abdomen throughout their wings to strengthen them. They need at least an hour to do this, but we found if we give them at least three hours after emerging their wings will be stiffer and they are more confident to fly. We learned this when we tried to release one just an hour after it had emerged, but her wings seemed flimsy, so we put her back into the enclosure for another couple of hours. She was nice and strong when we released her later.

A female monarch being held by Louise's daughter.
Female Monarchs have thicker black lines than the males.  

She you say?  Yes, you can tell if a Monarch butterfly is male or female by its markings. The females have thicker black lines than the males. Males have thinner lines and two small dots on their lower wings.  

A male monarch being held by Louise's daughter
Male Monarchs have two small dots on their lower wings.

One morning we had the awesome opportunity to watch a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis. I told our B.E.E. to quickly run upstairs and grab my phone so I could film it, and then I went and stood at the foot of the stairs and yelled at her to hurry up. We both missed it! It was that fast.  Somehow I imagined it would take time to arrive much like a chick pecking away at its shell, but nope! Butterflies are efficient. So that was Mom Fail #2.

Mom Fail #3 occurred when we found a chrysalis in the wild, on our very own milkweed. “How exciting!” I thought. “We can study it in the wild and it will be a mini-science lesson.” (I could feel that Earth Mother Energy rising!)  Our little B.E.E. had read about how you can move a chrysalis if a caterpillar makes it in an unfortunate spot, but I insisted that we had already sponsored enough caterpillars, and we should leave this one in its natural habitat. So we left it out there, all green and glowing.  

A monarch butterfly sitting on the edge of the habitat, just before it flys off.

The next day we went to check on our wild charge, and found what could best be described as “there appears to have been a struggle.” The milkweed was tramped. There was no sign whatsoever of the chrysalis. We searched the ground and all around. Nothing. There were some tears shed by our B.E.E., and I relinquished my hopes of ever having any Earth Mother credentials. In all, we raised and hatched 7 butterflies: Flutterby Girl, Crinkle Wing, Flutterby Boy, Prince Butterfly, Queen Butterfly, King Butterfly, and Princess Butterfly.  “Crinkle Wing”, as you may have guessed, came out with its wings crinkled and was never able to fully extend them. We put Crinkle Wing on the Butterfly bush flower that overhangs our porch to give it a fighting chance.  

But STOP THE PRESSES! (Yes, I literally wrote that to our illustrious editor B.A.!) As I was talking with her about this story our B.E.E. came running in the house shouting, “We found more caterpillars!”  And found some they did indeed: we wound up raising 39 Monarch Butterflies to adulthood and 1 very grumpy Swallowtail.  

In addition to more Monarch caterpillars, our B.E.E. had found a Swallowtail caterpillar on our Rue plant and puzzled over it, because they are slightly different from the Monarchs.  Swallowtail caterpillars have dots and stripes. Frankly, after all this caterpillar observation, I’ve learned that a lot of caterpillars look exactly like what I’d draw as a cartoon version of a caterpillar.  

A Swallowtail caterpillar on some leaves
A Swallowtail caterpillar.

Swallowtails have a whole different disposition from Monarchs.  Apparently when “angered” they unfurl their orange horns and waggle them at you and release a foul stench. Our B.E.E. got our Swallowtail to do this while “petting” him. This delighted her to no end and caused the phrase, “don’t anger the Swallowtail” to enter our vocabulary. He took a while to make his chrysalis, and  I’m thoroughly convinced that he finally made it because he was fed up with hanging out in the butterfly enclosure and being “petted”.  He just grumpily said, “Well fine,” and shed himself into a chrysalis to be done with us.  

In all, it was an exciting time. We helped the creatures in our garden. We helped out our environment. And we did it as a family. Will we do it next year? Of course. But first we plant more milkweed!

A Swallowtail butterfly, black with yellow stripes at the back of the wings.
The Swallowtail Butterfly.

Jazz in a Physically Distant World

Words by Penny Neef.
Images courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival.

The Virginia Arts Festival’s Fall Arts Celebration Concerts are sold out. Tickets were very limited. There are COVID restrictions and COVID precautions, but the swift sale of tickets for this concert series in the Courtyard behind the VAF headquarters on Bank Street also demonstrates some things – 

  • VAF has a loyal fan base who love and appreciate what they do for our community.
  • People are starved for live music.
  • We should celebrate (with precautions) the tiny baby steps towards normalcy.
  • We (maybe just me?) need to realize that life as we used to know it may never return. (Ed. note- I don’t think it’s just you, Penny!)
  • Human beings are capable of great creativity, flexibility and beauty when backed into a Covid corner.
  • Music and the arts are something we can’t live without.

I spoke with John Toomey last week. Toomey is the lead in the John Toomey Quartet, playing this Saturday, October 3 in the Outdoor Courtyard at 440 Bank Street behind the Clay & Jay Barr Education Center of the VAF. 

Toomey also curates, directs and performs at the VAF’s Attucks Jazz Club, upstairs in the historic Attucks Theatre and is a Professor of Music at ODU.

Toomey is unfazed about performing outdoors. “If the weather is cooperative and there is a good sound system, it will be great.” He should know. He’s performed outdoors at the Newport Jazz Festival with Maynard Ferguson and other big outdoor jazz festivals around the world.

Toomey prefers the intimacy of a “small” venue, like the upstairs room at the Attucks Theatre. That room holds 130 people. The Outdoor Courtyard will be limited to about 50 people, who will be spread out in socially distant groups. 

A view of the stage for the Fall Music Celebration, You can see the audience seated in a socially distant manner in the mid-ground.

On a side note, and my own personal rant: I prefer the term physically distant. We are social beings. Circumstances dictate a minimum of 6 feet between us, but we can still be social. Attending a live concert together is a social event, even if the audience is limited and we’re sitting far apart. We’re sharing the experience. That experience on Saturday will be jazz.

Toomey will be on piano. His great friends and fellow musicians Jimmy Masters on bass, Brian Caputo on drums, and Eddie Williams on sax make up the John Toomey Quartet. Toomey says there will be some standards and some “unique pieces”.

These men are seasoned musicians and have played together many times. They don’t need much rehearsal. “The nature of jazz is improvisation. We can improvise while we’re 6 feet apart.”

Keep an eye on the VAF’s website. They are working hard to keep the arts alive, in a physically distant and safe way, in Hampton Roads. 

Ghostlight – Little Theatre of Norfolk Podcast features Spotlight Writer Moriah Joy

Words by BA Ciccolella.
Image courtesy of Moriah Joy.

A huge thank you to the Little Theatre of Norfolk for hosting Spotlight’s Moriah Joy to talk about her recent article “Op-Ed: Gig Economy Work during a Pandemic”. Moriah’s interview can be found on Episode 7 of Ghostlight – The Little Theatre of Norfolk, entitled The Gig Economy: How to be a Starving Artist (pandemic not required). (Full disclosure, Moriah is also a board member at the Little Theatre of Norfolk.)

Moriah Joy's headshot.

Anyone wishing to hear Moriah (and your friendly editor, who is one of the hosts of Ghostlight – Little Theatre of Norfolk), can listen to that specific episode, or subscribe to the podcast at any of the following sites:

Spotify Google Podcasts
Apple Podcasts 
Pocket Casts

Ghostlight is also looking to continue the conversation by taking voicemails on the topic of the gig economy at 757-632-3281. Any voicemails left on this topic may be featured on a future Ghostlight episode.

Besides following us on Facebook for more community news, you can follow the Little Theatre of Norfolk on Facebook and Instagram as well! 

Fall Arts Celebration Concerts begin September 25

Words courtesy of Penny Neef.
Images courtesy of Virginia Arts Festival.

I’ve tried. I’ve really tried, but virtual concerts or live Zoom concerts or concerts that you watch on your big screen TV are just not the same as being right there in front of musicians who are pouring their heart and soul into the music. That is why I am so happy that Virginia Arts Festival is beginning a series of Fall Arts Celebration Concerts this Friday, September 25 in their own Outdoor Courtyard at 440 Bank Street.

First up is classical. Musicians Debra Wendells Cross, flute, and Elizabeth Coulter Vonderheide, violin, join violist Luke Fleming and cellist Jake Fowler for an evening of chamber music under the stars. 

The Outdoor Courtyard is a lovely venue, full of fresh air. It is not heated or air conditioned, so dress appropriately. Tickets will be limited. Each party will enter together, and be seated together, allowing six feet of distance from other parties. All CDC guidelines and sanitation procedures will be followed.

For Debra Cross, Principal Flute for the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and flute instructor at ODU, the biggest challenge will be the wind. “It’s a challenge to play outdoors. We have special music stands with clips so the music doesn’t fly away.” She has enjoyed many virtual concerts during this pandemic but agrees that “virtual is just not the same.” 

Cross and the three string musicians in this chamber music quartet will be playing Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart. In the Mozart piece, Cross’ flute substitutes for the violin in a beautiful arrangement.

Barbara Chapman and Debra Cross in front of Barb's harp
Barbara Chapman, harp and Debra Cross, flute

Debra Cross will be making another live appearance in the VAF’s Outdoor Courtyard on Wednesday, October 7 at 10:30 am for Morning Chamber Music. Cross will be joined by harpist Barbara Chapman. Cross and Chapman will be playing “all sorts of things”. There will be classical pieces, but also folk and Latin music. They will perform together and each will perform a solo piece.

Rob Cross, VAF’s Perry Artistic Director, knows that we are all missing live performances of great music. He says, “We wanted to offer this safe opportunity to folks who are craving the satisfaction that only a live performance can bring.”

 Check the Virginia Arts Festival website for information about more live events coming up and information about how you can support the arts in our community –

Virtual Stockley Gardens Fall Arts Festival – Oct. 17 & 18

Words and Images courtesy of the
Stockley Gardens Arts Festival.

Hope House Foundation is pleased to announce that the Stockley Gardens Fall Arts Festival, sponsored by TowneBank, will be held virtually on Oct. 17 and 18. Participants will be able to view and purchase works of art and enjoy performances from the region’s favorite musicians. The virtual experience can be found at

“Hope House Foundation and Stockley Gardens Arts Festival are community focused first and foremost, so we simply cannot wait until 2021 to hold a festival,” said Festival Director Elena Montello. “While we may not be able to physically meet you at the park, we hope to recreate as many elements as possible through this virtual event.”

There will still be top-notch artists, groovy music, sponsor shout outs and plenty of nostalgia. But this time around, footsteps and hands-on browsing are out, socially distant clicks, comments and shares are in. Stay tuned for details about the entertainment schedule and a special drive-up menu from Hank’s Filing Station.

Every artist will have links to their website for purchases, and several pieces will be available through a virtual auction. Emerging artists will also be included in the festival.

Proceeds from the Stockley Gardens Arts Festivals support the programs of Hope House Foundation, the first organization in Virginia to provide support for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities exclusively in their own homes. The spring and fall festivals, the largest fundraiser for the organization, generate $80,000 that is used to provide necessities for the people who receive services such as assistance with food, medical expenses, dental care, clothing and housing. With both festivals being impacted by COVID-19, we invite people to become friends of Stockley to help us continue our mission. For more information, visit or call (757) 625-6161.