Common Ground

Common Ground is a visual commentary on life in Hampton Roads, in which a Virginian-Pilot photographer explores a topic of his or her choosing.

Starting Dec. 21, 2014

Moving Pictures by The Photo Staff of The Virginian-Pilot

Moving Pictures is a series of time-lapse videos produced by Virginian-Pilot photographers. A time-lapse is a a video presentation where the images are captured at a much slower rate than used to view the sequence. As a result, time in the video is altered and reality seems to speed up. What these scenes reveal can be a fascinating way to view the commonplace. In the coming weeks, we will write about them here, along with our thoughts and challenges in constructing them, and hope you enjoy these projects as much as we did producing them.



by Steve Earley | The Virginian-Pilot

MOVING PICTURES | We all know the Ghost of Christmas Past
and the vivid scenes of Victorian England brought to us by
Charles Dickens in “A Christmas Carol.” Now Nauticus and the
Virginia Stage Company have created an interactive holiday attraction
inspired by the setting of that timeless tale. Set up in the
Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center in downtown Norfolk,
Dickens’ Christmas Towne offers visitors a chance to stroll
the streets with carolers, jugglers and actors in period costume.
What does it take to build such an attraction? Here’s a breakdown,
by the numbers.

47,000 fasteners to hold it all together
15,000 square feet of space in the Half Moone Cruise and Celebration
13,000 linear feet of lumber to build over 100 shop facades
4,800 hours of labor by local artisans and laborers
300 sheets of plywood
200 miles traveled each day by model trains as they circle a miniature
festive alpine village
70 gallons of paint
60 wreaths
44 bows made of red ribbon
30 gallons of joint compound to add texture to the buildings
21 candy canes in a jar in the confectioner’s window
20 gallons of Elmer’s white glue
18 Christmas trees
13 actors
12 poinsettias
10 shops where you can buy cupcakes, ornaments, treats and much more
7 gallons of wood glue
5 carolers
4 fowl hanging in the poulterer’s window
3 candy cane columns
2 craft shops, one to make ornaments and the other to decorate cookies
1 golden throne with red velvet, because where else is Father Christmas
going to sit?

if you go:
What: Dickens’ Christmas Towne
Where: Half Moone Cruise and Celebration
Center, One Waterside Drive, Norfolk
When: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and
Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. Sundays through
Dec. 28; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Christmas Eve,
closed Christmas Day.
Cost: $5 adults, $4 children 4-12; ages 3
and younger are free
More info: 664-1000, www.dickenschristmastowne.com

What's Inside: Memories


Marshall Belanga, 77, is rooted deeply to his ancestors, and the land they inhabited in southern Virginia Beach. Family history was passed down orally from one generation to the next, and is still very much alive to him. 

He knows the tale of the four Belanga brothers who immigrated from Italy, landed in South Carolina, and 7 years later settled in Princess Anne County, making their living as farmers and fishermen in the early 1700s.

He can picture the winter storm that churned up the ocean off Virginia's coast in 1887, drowning his great-great-grandfather James Edward Belanga and his brother Abel as they attempted to rescue crew from the stricken German ship Elisabeth. 

Belanga grew up in rural Princess Anne County, on what is now Dam Neck Naval Base. When the military moved in, they headed south to where he still lives and runs Belanga's Seafood, opened by his father in 1949, on what would become Sandbridge Road. Back then, the close-knit community close to the sea was known as Sigma. He remembers how it was when he was young, the cinder block packing shed filled with fish they had caught, packed in ice and covered by blankets with sawdust sewn in for insulation. He recalls the telephone party-line, the kerosene lamps, and how neighbors did for neighbors.

Today, Belanga's Seafood is quiet inside. He still sells local fish in season, shrimp, and some shark in the summer. His younger brother still plants "here, there, and yonder" on the remaining land; the greens are looking good for Thanksgiving this year. Shells, knick knacks, and his wife's glasswork add to the inventory.

Some nights Belanga sits back, closes his eyes, and recalls his favorite memory. He’s a child, it’s Friday afternoon and­ elementary school is out for the weekend.

He quickly changes his clothes, puts his shoes in a bag, and starts walking. Barefoot, he heads east on a dirt road, and after several miles, comes upon the beach. He turns right and ambles south for several more. He finds a treasure or two along the way, and finally reaches his father's fishing camp, at one end of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. 

A boyhood paradise, he would spend the weekend with his father, then journey back on Sunday afternoon. If no one had come down behind him, Belanga would track his own small footprints home. 

Photography and text by Vicki Cronis-Nohe




Posted to: Back Back barefoot Belanga Elisabeth memories Sandbridge Seafood Sigma Virginia Beach

What's Inside: A Steady Hand


 They play games on cellphones, swing their legs, or snuggle with mom to pass the time. Flanked by the House of Prayer on one side and a produce stand on the other, Korey Finney's barbershop has a line of children 8-deep inside.  He cuts hair of all ages, but during the school year, Saturday is their day.

Just like his grandfather, Finney, 26, is a fight fan, so he named his shop Uppa Kutz. Laminated posters of Ali, Tyson, and Frazier decorate his walls. Long before Finney was born, the one-room barbershop was run by Albert Christian, who locals say cut hair for well over 60 years. For as long as anyone can remember, this building in Exmore has been a barbershop.

Like any community shop, the banter between the barber and his regulars is familiar. "How's school been going for you, man," he shoots across to Jordan Belk, 6, the boy giving him a nod from his mother's lap as Finney finesses the fade on another customer. He ushers 4-year-old Vamaj Wise to the chair, putting a metal case holding his clippers under him as a makeshift booster seat. His steady hand doesn't waver as the child wiggles from time to time, although his mother has to still him while Finney edges up the back of his hairline. 

Finney has been running Uppa Kutz for over 5 years, and as a young business owner, is thankful for the support the community has shown him. He grew up in Northampton County, and understands how crucial that backing can be. With support from family, Finney made it to barber school in Pennsylvania, after cutting hair in his mother's kitchen since age 14. 

The appreciation can be seen around his shop - trophies from the softball and basketball teams he sponsors fill a windowsill. Finney throws a back-to-school cookout every year for kids in the community, offering them free food and supplies. Another statuette bears a plaque announcing him as Distinguished Man of the Year at Gaskins Chapel A.M.E. Church.

Most of all, Finney wants to give them a quality haircut, and to continue to do what he loves. "I just want to put a smile on their face and make them feel good about how they look."

Posted to: barbershop boxing community Eastern Shore Exmore Korey Finney Virginia

What's Inside: The Strength of a Sister


The hospital room is dim when Maggie Furco, 10, walks in on a recent Saturday morning. Her sister Abby, 8, is deep in a sleep that her body demands. Get-well banners and birthday cards line a wall inside Abby's room, Halloween decorations hang from the ceiling.

Maggie goes to the side of the bed that is free from the tangle of tubes and cords, and bends over her sister. Abby gives her a sleepy, slightly grumpy hug, and Maggie gives her a kiss. She looks over the new stuffed animals on Abby's bed. "Where'd you get this one from," Maggie asks, as she gently touches her sister's face with it.

Their parents get up to speed on the previous night's events, both at home and the hospital, so Maggie slides into bed with her sister, giving her time to fully wake up. Abby has rare form of leukemia, a cancer that begins in the blood cells, and is being treated at Portsmouth Naval Hospital. Diagnosed at age 4, she underwent treatment from February 2011 to October 2013. The family threw a no-more-chemo street party last fall in their D.C. neighborhood, celebrating her remission. 

A Navy family, the Furcos moved back to Virginia Beach in August. Roughly two weeks into third grade at Red Mill Elementary, Abby relapsed. The school has already had a bone marrow drive and fundraiser in honor of their new student. Bright red Team Abby t-shirts are worn in abundance, in advance of a Light the Night event on November 1st.

 The sisters catch up, too, snuggling under Abby's special pink blanket. Abby smiles as Maggie recounts how their younger sister Emily, 3, was scared of a boy in a skeleton costume at the school's fall festival. They open a gift sent from Maggie's former fourth-grade teacher, a game called Gone Fishin'. It's not obvious, but the first time they play Maggie gives her a few extra fish. The next time, Abby wins outright. 

Maggie knows how to strike the balance of making Abby feel special and treating her like any other big sister would, holding her up and grounding her at the same time. As Abby grows tired, Maggie goes from the board game to Mad Libs, and fills in most of the blanks. 

Soon Abby's had enough, so Maggie follows her lead and just lays with her. "If nothing else, Maggie and Abby have been the first level of support for each other, kind of built-in best friends," says their father Joe, a result of the many military moves the family has undergone. Maggie willingly sacrifices her wants and needs as the family focuses on Abby. She understands that she can't have both parents at home right now, and with poise, goes with the flow of the day.

 After an hour it's time for Maggie's dance rehearsal. The parents make the handoff, and the sisters say goodbye. Abby wraps one arm tight around Maggie's neck for a long moment, and then their very different days continue. 

Photography and text by Vicki Cronis-Nohe


To learn more about Abby: http://www.stbaldricks.org/blog/post/we-had-a-choice-abbys-fight-against-ph-acute-lymphoblastic-leukemia

Light the Night benefits those with Leukemia & Lymphoma. Read more:  http://pages.lightthenight.org/va/VABeach14/TeamAbby

To help those who need bone marrow transplants: bethematch.org to join the National Marrow Registry. Go to the website to sign up to get a swab kit. There will be a drive for Abby at Fort Storage, 2744 Dam Neck Road, Virginia Beach on 11/1/14 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.




Posted to: leukemia philadelphia chromosone Portsmouth portsmouth naval hospital sisters st. baldricks Virginia Beach

What's Inside: Pungo's Finest


A simple wooden box – with an airplane resembling a Piper Cub imprinted on it – held his ashes. Garland C. “Jack” Fentress, 91, died on Aug. 13. He had been born in Pungo; it’s where he lived his entire life.

Jack completed his first solo flight on Sept. 15, 1943, from Glenrock Airport, now Janaf Shopping Center, in Norfolk. Later, as a game warden, he flew a seaplane all over the state. It was said that he could land in a mud puddle if he had to, and he often took the family on Sunday “drives” over Back Bay, dipping a wing when he saw a farmer he knew out in a field.

He was “Pa” to his grandkids and to the greats, and he always had a hidden stash of peanut butter and oatmeal cookies for them, though they better not let Ma find out.

At the service celebrating his life, friends and family pored over newspaper clippings from his Coast Guard service during World War II and pictures of him hunting and farming. For years, he had a produce stand on the edge of his yard. If you were lucky enough to be the last customer of the day – well, you ended up with everything he had left, even if you were looking for just one cantaloupe.

WIth his neighbors, Jack lent what he had with ease, and if it never came back to him, no matter. "If you can live with it, I can live without it," he would say.

His hospitality endured to the end. “You’re hungry, aren’t you?” he’d say to visitors, trying to share his hospital food, wanting to walk them out when he could barely stand. When asked about his well-being, “I’m fine” was the standard answer, no matter how bad he felt.

Jack recently came home to his farm for the last time. His children, Daniel Fentress and Michelle Stilson, grabbed two of the many little scoops squirreled away in his kitchen; he was mighty fond of strong coffee.

They spread some of his ashes on the last crop of sweet potatoes, planted last spring. That felt right, as Jack had been known to grow some of Pungo’s finest.

“The sweet potatoes are a little weak on this end; they need a little help, Dad,” Daniel said, as a strong wave of emotion hit him.

Hugging his sister tight, they said goodbye.   


Photography and text by Vicki Cronis-Nohe

Posted to: Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge coast guard Family farmer Jack Fentress love piper cub Pungo southern gentleman sweet potatoes Virginia Beach virginian-pilot WW II

What's Inside: The Babies


“Good luck with the babies,” the Oyster Queen yelled, waving as a couple pulled away with their newly adopted 4-month-olds. Inside a beat-up Igloo cooler, she has 95,000 more, waiting for pickup, packaged in purple mesh bags.

Her “babies’’ are young oysters, called spat, and she’s not really a queen, although her husband thinks so.

She’s Laurie Sorabella, and for 18 years she has been running the Schools Restoring Oysters to the Chesapeake program. It connects local educators with as many 1,000-count bags of spat as they can handle. This year, 175 teachers are participating, and they hope to raise 400,000 native oysters to young adulthood, grown in floats in nearby rivers.

After picking up their babies, the teachers are asked by Sorabella if they want a picture taken. There’s a Sears-style portrait studio set up in her driveway, in front of a sign that says “oyster hugger.” Most take her up on it.

The oysters, which were spawned in a hatchery from Lafayette River parents, are not destined for aquaculture. In the spring, they will be transplanted to sanctuary reefs, where they will begin their lives’ work – cleaning local waters and spawning babies, without ever moving a foot. An average adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day from mid-March to December, and so far 6.8 million oysters have been raised and released to do just that.

Through this hands-on experience, science has come alive for 111,200 students in the area over the years. The children acquire a connection to the region’s waterways, and an ownership: Their oysters will make a difference. 
Text and photography by Vicki Cronis-Nohe

Posted to: Chesapeake Bay Chesapeake Bay Foundation Hampton Roads Oyster Keepers Oyster Queen oysters spat Tidewater Virginia Beach

What's Inside: Jimmy


Jimmy Morelen, 55, was scared, but he wasn’t sure why.

He had survived five years of homelessness at the Oceanfront, two rounds of detox, a recent stroke. Then, several weeks ago, he decided that “enough was enough.” He feared that, if he didn’t get off the streets, he was going to die there. He connected with city outreach workers, qualified for supportive housing and, luckily enough, there was a vacancy. 

He landed a spot in a day program that helps him navigate getting along in the world, after going it alone for so long. He signed a lease and got the keys to his new apartment.

But his fears haunted him: Would the place be clean? Would he get along with the two roommates he hadn’t met? Morelen worried about what seemed like little things.

Maybe, he thought, he should go back to the streets, where he knew the rules.

Outreach worker Cheryl Molinet was afraid they would lose him. She understood such anxiety; she’s seen it quite often.

“They’ve been faceless, nameless for so long,” Molinet said. “We need to validate them as human beings, but can they live up to it?”

A new plan was put into place. A motel room was found near the beach, where Morelen could transition into a more structured routine. He lived there with another former homeless man, and everything went fine.

Morelen left the door open most of time, so he could feel the fresh air he is so used to. Inside Room 118, he finally relaxed.

“It’s been rough, but I’m hoping it’s going to get easier,” he said, staring out at the driving rain on his last evening in the motel. “Tomorrow, it’s back to the civilized world.”

He smoked another cigarette.

“I’m ready,” he said, “to be a person again.”    

Photography and text by Vicki Cronis-Nohe 


Posted to: change detox fear homeless Jimmy motel Virginia Beach

What's Inside: The Monkey Mind


Sharon Greenspan believes in monkey mind  – and that we can all fall prey to it. 

The brain jumps from one thought branch to another, swinging, screaming, sometimes spiraling out of control. But how do you stop thoughts in this multitasking, 24-hour news cycle of a world? Where does that mental trek to nothingness even begin?

Greenspan is a local meditation practitioner and teacher, and after decades of sitting, has felt the euphoria of really being in the zone. She compares it to a runner's high. "You're not thinking; you just are."

As a teacher at Taking Shape Fitness in Virginia Beach, she knows how difficult, even seemingly impossible, it can be for a novice to sit in silence. So she’s patterned a path for first-timers who seek inner quiet.The steps are simple. Sit in a way that is comfortable, back supported and pelvis forward. Use a wall if needed but stay away from electrical components that can emit distracting energy. Make sure the spouse, pets and kids are somewhere else, but let everyone know that a strange noise will be coming from you – and to ignore it. 

Close your eyes, and breathe in deeply through your nose. Upon exhaling, let the air pass by the vocal chords, engaging them in sound. No words. No OOOMMM. Just pure sound. 


This breathing and sound-making will fully engage your senses. Sound is heard and felt at the same time, and because your mind is taking a break, you may feel ridiculous, but your thoughts won't spiral away about it, monkey mind-style. Calm and focus are restored. After 15 to 20 minutes, you will be in another world.

“Think about it,” Greenspan says. “You can do this is your car and change your whole day.”


Photography and text by Vicki Cronis-Nohe | The Virginian-Pilot

Posted to: breathe calm meditation mind The Virginian-Pilot thoughts Virginia Beach

What's Inside: The Illusion


“Beauty hurts,” says female impersonator Keresa Karrington as she applies Elmer’s spray adhesive to her pasties to keep them in place. A few outfits even call for super glue, but she’s willing to sacrifice a little skin for her art. 

On Sunday mornings, in the “locker room of lady boys,” you’ll find a strong spirit of sisterhood, and a serious commitment to the illusion, at Croc’s 19th Street Bistro in Virginia Beach. Drag Yourself to Brunch has been a consistent sell-out for almost four years. Some performers make the transformation before they arrive, because they prefer the quiet of home or because they won’t even fill up with gas unless they’re wearing makeup. Others walk in as clean slates an hour before showtime. Either way, underneath the dress, it’s basic drag-queen math: Sculpted couch-cushion foam adds and duct tape takes away. Half a dozen stockings, both support and sheer, provide further camouflage to complete the “dude­allusion,” as local pioneer Mercedes Douglas calls it. 

And then there’s the makeup. Make that, The Makeup. Layer upon layer of it. “A smoky eye and a red lip will take you anywhere,” says emcee Victoria Foster, before heading off to warm up the crowd with pith and profanity.

The quiet and calm of the dressing room stands in contrast to the high­-energy routines and raucous crowd on the other side of the swinging door. Each lady performs twice a month, so they catch up on mutual friends, share accessories, and help with outfit adjustments. 

At its core, the switch from he to she is an inner change. “You embrace this new person, and it transcends onto the stage,” says Alessandra McQueen. “It’s fun to showcase the artistic side.”


Photography and text by Vicki Cronis-Nohe | The Virginian-Pilot



Posted to: Beauty brunch Croc's drag queen lady Virginia Virginia Beach

What's Inside: The Dive


Toby Yarbrough, 49, has one goal for the rest of his life: To be half-way normal.

The medically retired Army sergeant has spent the last ten years in a fight against PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and a trauma-induced seizure disorder. Therapy, antidepressants, painkillers, strong family support, and a service dog named Duke have been his weapons. The newest in his arsenal is Hampton Roads Hyperbaric Therapy, where he takes a waterless dive five days a week, saturating his damaged nerves and tissue with pure oxygen in a submarine-like chamber that is pressurized to 16 feet below sea level.

After 20 years of multiple tours in combat zones, Yarbrough was with Bravo Company 92nd Engineers in Uzbekistan when heavy equipment shifted and fell on him in 2002. He sustained severe head, neck, and back injuries, spent two years in Germany undergoing surgery and therapy, and came home to a constant struggle. Doctors weren't sure he would walk again. He can, but has a cane ready when he is spent. He has a speech impediment, and a back full of plates, pins, and screws.

The worst may be the post traumatic stress. Yarbrough writes, "It's almost as if it (the PTSD) has become self-aware and not only will steer me away from danger, but also away from its own demise." It tricks him into sitting next to the window or in a corner when he and his family go out to eat, so potential threats can be spotted and he can exit them to safety. At home, he's compelled to do a perimeter check at the slightest noise - checking locks, standing guard.

There, he is in control.

But he knew he couldn't stay in his safe place forever, away from crowds and the unknown. Yarbrough is now doing what he calls the hardest thing. In July, around the same time he started treatments, the Chesapeake resident went back to school at Centura College. In August he was named student of the month for the business school.

He’s seen changes in himself – eight hours of sleep each night, a decrease in seizures, an improved concentration – and he’s come up with a plan. Yarbrough wants to encourage organizations, such as the American Legion, to sponsor other wounded veterans in the chamber. “Because right now,” he says, “it’s vets helping vets, not the government.”

Photography and text by Vicki Cronis-Nohe | The Virginian-Pilot

Posted to: hyperbaric Norfolk PTSD TBI veteran wounded warrior

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