Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Get Your Kicks Off Route 66

I think everyone knows that the Washington D.C. area has the worst traffic in the nation. Even though I don't regularly drive in the bad traffic areas, I'm aware of them by means of the traffic reports from the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center of WTOP-FM (103.5) which air every ten minutes (with the weather on the eights) around the clock. As one traffic engineer I talked to said, "We have too many cars and not enough roads." There are a lot of people here because there are a lot of jobs and there is not enough public transportation, or at least public transportation that is good, efficient and inexpensive enough to make people leave their cars and ride a bicycle, bus, train or boat.

To make matters worse, roads must be maintained.  This seems like an obvious statement, but a road can't be closed completely so it can be resurfaced or whatever.  I know, a road could be completely closed for a period of time, but we know the mess that results from the closure whether it's due to maintenance or an accident.  There are miles-long backups, and traffic clogs side streets and neighborhoods.  A lot of this work is done at night or between what used to be called "rush hours" (now 24/7 as I said). Even with less traffic between, say 9 AM and 3 PM or overnight, when lanes close, traffic backs up. We picked Amy up from her big Southwest adventure at BWI Airport.  Her flight was due in about 10:15 and we left about 8:15, leaving in what we thought was plenty of time sing Google maps indicated that the 68 mile trip would take about an hour and twenty minutes, in an ideal world. With the amount of traffic and construction closed lanes on both I-66 and 495, we reached the cell lot about 10:15. That's two hours travel time if you're keeping track. Coming back, we sat at a dead standstill for ten minutes in the Tysons Corner subway construction area near the intersection of 495 and 123.  Once we got moving (slowly), Amy told us to take the 123 exit to International Drive to the Dulles Toll Road to Route 28 South, none of which had much traffic. It was a frustrating exercise in driving (which Becky did; I was the navigator.)

As I said, we don't drive in these high traffic areas much.  Congestion can be bad enough around Manassas, but we know which intersections and streets to avoid.  The main commercial artery through town and beyond is Business 234 (to differentiate it from Bypass 234 which runs from Woodbridge past I-95 and on up to I-66), a classic commercial road with shopping centers, restaurants and a variety of other businesses. Business 234 goes from its intersection with Bypass 234 to the south of Manassas, through town, up to the interchange with I-66 and then through the Manassas Battlefield Park and into more rural areas until it intersects with Route 15. Between the City and the Battlefield Park, traffic is dense and slow-moving except for late at night or very early in the morning.

Yesterday I was headed out 234 about 10 AM when I noticed traffic was thicker than usual. It started crawling by the Prince William Hospital Campus, and continued for about three miles where I discovered that a road crew had closed two out of three lanes to repave them.  I supposed that they would work during the day and quit about 5 PM. I supposed wrong.  They were back today, backing up traffic and working past 7 PM. Now I know that 234 Business (also known as Sudley Road, I mention belatedly) is not I-270, but thousands of drivers were inconvenienced, frustrated and made late for their activities. Time spent sitting in traffic also has a negative impact on the economy. Couldn't the crews have worked at night? It might have cost more but it would have been better for us all. We all want well-maintained roads but we also want reasonably clear roads.  I think we can have both.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Home Grown Tomatoes

I love real tomatoes, the big juicy red ones that come out of gardens or farmers' markets in the summer, not the puny, hard, tasteless faint pink hockey pucks that we are offered the rest of the year.  I can eat and have devoured real tomatoes three meals a day, at breakfast, lunch and dinner, just sliced up and lying there, so lovely on the plate.  They're also good as a snack.  I like them on a cold biscuit.  Hey!  That would make a good name for a blog...biscuit...biscuit something...I'll have to think about that some more.

It has been tomato season for a while now, and one point of reinforcement about the glorious oncoming of this wonderful fruit (or vegetable) was the first Summer Sounds Concert by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason back on Saturday, July 11.  One of the wonderful songs they sang was "Home Grown Tomatoes," composed by musician Guy Clark, celebrating my favorite fruit. Here's a link to the song as performed by Ungar and Mason:

We were fortunate to have home grown tomatoes growing up since Becky's dad Oscar and my mom were master gardeners.  The green thumb gene didn't take in my case: I can kill any living plant with little effort, although the hydrangeas I put in at the start of the summer are doing well. Becky has a rain forest of indoor plants in the room with a northern exposure.  Neither of us grow tomatoes, though.  We didn't have to when Becky's dad and my mom were living.  I remember asking her if I should try growing some tomatoes myself and she laughed and said, "Just get some from the farmers' market."  That was a good suggestion, and so every Saturday Becky goes to the market and comes home with some beautiful yellow tomatoes for herself and some big juicy red ones for me. So, if you're feeling down, sing along with the "Home Grown Tomatoes" song and have a tomato!

Home grown tomatoes, home grown tomatoes
What'd life be without home grown tomatoes
There's only two things that money can't buy
That's true love and home grown tomatoes!
Yes, indeed!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Dodging A Bullet

We're located in Manassas (and by we I mean my family and I live in Manassas, Virginia. The use of "we" to refer to a single person is called "the majestic plural." Mark Twain once allegedly said that "Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial 'we.' "), about 25 miles or so west south west of the center of Washington DC. The weather here over the range of local broadcast stations can vary greatly because of the topography (mountains in the west declining gradually eastward to sea level shore line with weather also ameliorated by the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean to the east), so exact forecasts for any region are tricky. Snowfalls from east to west or north to south can vary by as much as a foot and temperatures by 10 to 15 degrees.

We are generally on the western edge of any hurricane that comes up along the coast as Irene did, so we weren't hammered as the unfortunate communities along the Carolina, Virgina and Maryland coasts were. New York City got off easier than expected as the storm weakened. Locally, we got about two inches of rain measured by my working rain gauge) and winds seemed to run 20 miles an hour as far as I could tell using my Cub Scout silver arrow point weather unit skills whereby one estimates wind speed by the movement of flags, trees, small children and large heavy rocks. (Not as accurate as anemometer, I know. Gotta get me one of those.)  Becky said we lost power early Sunday morning but I was asleep. We got off easy.

The earthquake this past week and the hurricane the past few days have served as definitive reminders of the power of nature, if any of us had forgotten.  In the form of tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, blizzards and hurricanes, nature can unleash brutal power that we can do nothing to stop.  I once heard someone call in to a radio show to ask an expert on atomic weapons if one or more nuclear weapons dropped on a hurricane might break it apart and render it harmless.  The expert chuckled and replied that the power of a nuclear weapon, as great as it is, would make no difference to the structure or movement of a hurricane.

Just for the record, here's a picture of my hurricane readiness kit:
In case it's hard to tell from the picture what the special items are, they are, from left to right, cranberry sauce (I can pretend it's Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays, and be happy), rice ( I love rice.  This is microwave rice and takes 90 seconds to fix!  Ninety seconds!), dark chocolate (good and good for you!  Eat up!), a saltine cracker (not elegant, but this is a survival kit, after all) crossword puzzle (must keep the mind sharp and active) and pencil (this one doesn't have an eraser--it's just a prop. I couldn't find one with an eraser.  I'm good with crosswords, but not that good), Kindle (needed to be charged. Oops.  Hope the electricity holds up), chilled Pepsi in a can (delicious sugar infused water!), Art Garfunkel CD (Art is my man and makes me feel better.  Sing "Bridge over Troubled Water" for me, Art!), harmonica (for that lonesome prairie cowboy vibe), cat food (so my cat won't eat me), TV remote (to control the set while I watch my poor Nats leave dozens of men on base and lose again), American cheese ( symbolic since Bloom had pulled all the cheese off the shelves as they prepared to close early Saturday evening.  No brie for me!  The American cheese product stands in  for it) and battery-powered radio (with little Sony speakers so everyone can gather around and listen just like the Fireside Chats) set to WTOP-FM, home of  the  glass-enclosed nerve center.

Seriously, though all this display of the power of nature was enough to make anyone think and enough to make anyone more than humble.  And thankful for what we just avoided.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Apocalypse Now and Later

As of this writing on Friday, August 26 about 9:00 AM , we experienced this past week one of the biggest earthquakes on record in Virginia and are now awaiting the effects of Hurricane Irene which is somewhere off the Florida coast.  It has been a news week that you just know had news people about to spin their heads off their necks with excitement while they salivated about all those newsworthy events happening in close proximity.  This happens every once in a while, such as the week of William and Kate's wedding. A couple of days before the royal event, a number of tornadoes ravaged the South.  It was horrible.

While I would not ascribe any eschatological significance to an earthquake and a hurricane in the same week, some might see it as evidence of the ending of the world. I certainly respect anyone's right to such an interpretation: I just think we don't know when the end of times will come. The Bible chronicles an ongoing series of disasters including floods, famines, the plagues of Egypt, pestilence, whirlwinds, mighty winds, storms, earthquakes, drownings, collapse of buildings and walls, conquests, captivities, destruction of cities, wars, and falls of empires.  Beyond the Bible, historically we know we have experienced more wars, more conquests, slavery, poverty, starvation, the plague, diseases of various sorts, economic exploitation, the nationalistic wars of the nineteenth century, colonial exploitation, class, racial and sex discrimination, World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the use of atomic weapons, the Cold War, terrorism, and the war on terrorism.

And yet through all of this, people of faith and people of good will have comforted the afflicted, fed the hungry, worked to bring peace, and served the cause of justice.  I believe that they represent humanity at its best, and that's part of what William Faulkner was talking about in his speech given for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949 (the speech was delivered in late 1950) in which he famously declared,  "I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance."
We have had an earthquake and we have a hurricane coming but we also have faith, hope and strength. Most of all, we have each other. May each of you go with God.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

First Children, Stuck CD's and Leaving Well Enough Alone

Our younger daughter Alyssa likes to point out that she is the only second-born child in a family of first-borns. This is true, since Becky, Amy and I are all first-borns. I received some help determining this from a web site.  Here it is if you want to figure out your birth order:


How to figure out your birth order


If you were born first, you're a first-born. If last, you're a last-born. If you're a middle child, you need to ask whether you're closer in age to an older or a younger sibling. If you have many older siblings and are close in age to one or more of them, you can expect to be more like a last-born than a first-born, although you will have some firstborn traits by virtue of the fact that you have a younger sibling. 


Now that we've settled that, we'll proceed with the business at hand.  It's my understanding that there is mixed scientific support for the idea that birth order influences personality since there are so many factors that affect personality. The concept is still solidly a part of pop psychology and culture. Here's a quick rundown of the characteristics, shamelessly lifted from some website:


The First Born


Strongest Personality – First-borns are usually the leaders. They usually have the characteristics and qualities that enable them to make decisions easily. This maybe due to the special attention they receive since they are the first, and parents would be very excited with them.

Family Minded – First-borns take the position of their parents when they are not around, making them the decision makers. They would then think of the family as their own, thus they are protective and responsible for their siblings. They are unselfish and caring by nature.

(I like this description and believe it to be true. :^) ) 

The Middle Child


Peacekeepers – Middle children are peacekeepers by default. They are the mediators between the siblings. They are sometimes associated as “people pleasers” due to their weak personalities, but not all of them have this characteristic.

Attention Getter – By being born at the middle, middle children do not receive much attention. This causes them to get attention whenever they can through any means possible, so often they become the black sheep of the family. Lack of attention can cause a chain reaction making them lose confidence, friends and so on.

("Weak personalities?"  Hmmm...don't think so. Alyssa is the polar opposite of a "weak personality.") 

The Last Born


Smartest – By being the last, they have seen the rights and wrongs of their siblings, making them the smartest. Often, the youngest will be exposed to matters between their siblings which are older, thus making them a bit mature for their age.

Spoiled – By this time, the parents are tired of their children. Most of their energies in disciplining the children have been used up, thus having none for the youngest. Because of this, the child becomes accustomed to no discipline at all, making them spoiled and hard headed.

(Sorry, last-borns. I think it's harsh to say that parents are "tired of their children with the last-born . Also calling last-borns "spoiled and hard headed" is not nice.)

(Remember this blog is intended for entertainment purposes only and should not be confused with actual information.)

Anyhow, the point is this story: Alyssa recently acquired a new (used) car and sold me her Mazda station wagon. I had always liked the car and find it a delight to drive and useful for carrying things. I can actually get four ten foot long plastic pipes in it, which would have stuck out the back of my former pickup with the miniscule six-foot bed. That's one of the reasons I no longer have the truck.  That and it rode like a tank.

The Mazda sw has a Bose sound system with a CD player (changer, actually, I found out) which has an incredible sound.  Being a guy, I stuck a CD in the slot, which is how most CD players work. It wouldn't play. Not would it eject.  Being a first born, I wanted to fix the problem and stuck various slender objects into the slot to try to free the disc. Nothing worked and I had to get to a meeting. I was already planning to take the dash apart to get at the CD and free the disc.

I came out after my meeting and started the car...and the CD ejected itself. Whew!  Upon reading the directions (contrary to my guy nature), I found that I should have pressed the "Load" button to the top of the slot.  When the display read "Load" I could insert the CD. Imagine that.

I think it was my first-born status that made me stick the disc into the slot without knowing what I was doing.  I like to forge ahead without any idea of what will happen in a given circumstance.  Sometimes bad things happen but it's always exciting. I'm trying to think things through before I jump in, but old habits die hard. Trying to pull the CD out of the player is typical of my impulsive nature. I should know better but I don't.

I console myself by remembering that I am "unselfish and caring by nature," and not possessed of a "weak personality" or "spoiled and hard-headed." Thank goodness for that. Right?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I Feel the Earth Move

Well, of course all the buzz yesterday was about the 5.8--6.0 earthquake the area experienced yesterday, perhaps the strongest ever in Virginia (although Thomas Jefferson predated the Richter Scale so I wonder how historians determine the strength of earthquakes before more scientific measures came along. Maybe accounts of damage to the tobacco crop). The strongest previous quake in Virginia was a 5.8 in 1897. In spite of what my students used to think, I did not experience that one myself.  Neither did I know William Shakespeare personally. I think your momma did, though.
I was on my deck working on extending part of an extension ladder for easier access to my attic (it's complicated) when I heard a rumbling like the furnace was going to explode. The deck swayed back and forth two to three inches for about 45 seconds. Ace builder Don Libeau rebuilt the deck several years ago after it partially peeled off the house on one Fourth of July (with Becky standing on it). If it were not for Don's overbuilding I would have landed in the back yard. The swaying stopped and I thought, the Marines must have some big new guns (we can hear explosions and such from the base at Quantico about 23 miles away).Then I figured that it was an earthquake.
My neighbor came out and asked if I had felt anything.  I replied that I did and that I thought it was an earthquake.  I stepped inside the kitchen area and turned on the TV. As the World Turns (or something similar) was airing, so I switched on WTOP radio, an all-news station in D.C. They were reporting a magnitude 5.6 quake with the epicenter in Mineral, VA.
 I tried to call Becky but the phone lines were loaded up and I couldn't get through. A few minutes later she called me to report that she was in her office on the third floor of the church and thought the furnace was rumbling (brilliant minds think alike) at first and then that the Marines were setting off ordnance (after nearly 37 years of marriage we frequently experience mind melds). The 'quake knocked one of her African animal carvings off the shelf and she knew it was an earthquake then and evacuated the building.  After a few minutes she went back.
I was interested that texting worked, and I soon heard from Amy who reported that she sheltered in the laundry room which is a small space with large metal objects all around.  Good idea that, and she could have clean clothes for the apocalypse. She also had the foresight to schedule a massage at 2 PM, fifteen minutes after the event.  Good going!
Alyssa texted to report that she worked in a fortress at SRA. Fortress of Solitude, maybe.  She sent an account of her reaction and that of a colleague:
The earthquake started, and like most everyone else, I thought it was something else.  Specifically, I asked my coworker Kelly if she also felt a herd of buffalo running under her desk.  She said yes, and we agreed that it was an earthquake.  Then we wondered what we should do.  "Google 'What to do in an earthquake'?" I suggested.
 "I think we're supposed to stand in a doorway," she replied.  So we stood in the doorway.  
"In case we die, I love you," I joked with her.  
"I love you too," she replied.  
(We have known each other for about three weeks because she just started with the company, but it was coworker love at first sight.)  
Then we stood there for a while while the rumbling continued. 
 With nothing else to do while standing in the doorway, we resorted to Your Momma jokes.  "I didn't realize they let your momma jump on the roof!"  
Our hilarious joke fest was interrupted by my boss, emerging from the men's room and exclaiming "THIS is what happens when you make me mad!" and laughing maniacally down the hallway.

Your tax dollars at work, folks.

So everyone was accounted for and I took a nap.  I've been checking Facebook where a lot of people shared their experiences. That worked. It's a brave new world out there. I'm glad no one seemed to be badly hurt in the earthquake and damage was minimal. I'm also glad I don't live in California. I don't think I could take it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ukulele Lady

I would probably have to say that I have an ambivalent relationship with the ukulele but recently I have come to love it. I used to think it was a silly little instrument with only four strings that sounds like a creature from the planet Treblelina.  On the other hand, sales of ukuleles during the craze for the instrument during  the  1920's probably enabled the Martin guitar company to survive. If the company had gone under, there would have been no D-28 or D-18 dreadnaught models, the ne plus ultras of guitars as far as I am concerned. The ukulele can be masterfully played by the likes of Jake Shimabukuro (check out his version of "Stars and Stripes Forever" on You Tube) and Israel Kamakawiwo╩╗ole, a Hawaiian musician whose ukulele accompanied version of "Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" was used in numerous commercials and television shows as well as becoming a hit in its own right. The first time I heard it was during an episode of E.R. when the song is played during the death of Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards). I was ruined by that song and still am.

Our younger daughter Alyssa, the H.R. wizard, took up the ukulele recently.  She had tried guitar and found as many new players do that the strings hurt her fingers and the stretches to form the chords were too much for her small hands.  So she got a ukulele and began learning to play it. She reported last week she knew three chords and seven songs. With my father in the hospital this past week, she visited him Sunday with her ukulele and played "On Top of Spaghetti" and "You Are My Sunshine."  I'm glad I wasn't there or I would have been ruined again.  Ukuleles can do that to you, those "silly" little instruments.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Another Fine Mess

Those of you who are skilled at home repairs, especially where plumbing and electricity are involved, might want to save yourselves some time and get down on the floor right now so you'll be there when you start rolling around with laughter at my incompetence.

I generally don't fool with plumbing (too wet) or electricity (too shocking) but Amy asked if I could replace a ceiling light fixture in her kitchen and install a garbage disposal.  I said sure, because how hard could either of those tasks be? Pull the old light fixture off, attach the wires to the new one, and fasten it to the outlet box (or whatever it's called). I had done three or four garbage disposals before, and those were also not hard: put in the drain, attach the disposal to it, plug in the power cord to the convenient under-sink outlet, and run the outlet tube into the drain pipe. Half hour each, right?  Wrong--more like 16 hours total.

The existing light fixture was a four-foot fluorescent more typical of an office building.  No wonder Amy wanted it down.  First, I had to figure how to get the cover off so I could unbolt it from its moorings. There were two slot-head bolts (ugh) at either end and, even holding a cordless drill above my head, it seemed to take forever to undo the six inch toggle bolts. I got the fixture down in one piece without breaking a tube and unleashing mercury vapors. There was a ragged hole about where the outlet box would go and a pipe and strap above it. There would be no screwing the box into a joist--the nearest one was a foot away. I couldn't use a hanger bar-- the pipe was in the way.  I got a metal strap, snaked it over the bar and bolted the outlet box to the strap. Then it was spackle fest time as I filled in the gaps around the box. That of course took several applications but I got it smooth and level and wired the lamp head to the ceiling wires, hung the head, screwed in the bulbs and put on the shade.  It worked the first time!  I put a coat of paint on the unpainted area and then it was on to task # 2.

Every other disposal I have installed went into a space with a wired plugin box and a drain that came out of the wall at the back of the space. This installation had a roughed in outlet (i.e. wires in a wall outlet box) and wires in a switch box above the counter.  The drain line came in from the side of the cabinet, sloping downward as it approached the disposal site.  I couldn't figure out what I needed for the plumbing so I took all the pertinent pipes out, went to Rice's Hardware (a heavenly place), dumped my collection of  pipe on the counter and said, "Help! Please tell me what I need."

I described the installation and showed them my diagram of what I had. One of the Rice brothers plucked several pieces from the plastic pipe bins, showed me how it should be configured and sent me on my merry way. I put the pipes together and other than a couple of flanges in the way, it worked fine. I tightened everything up and ran some water through the pipes, tightened everything up. In recutting and attaching the hose from the air gap to the disposal I managed to break the plastic part of the air gap so it was back to Rice's for another. There seemed to be great interest in my project by this time. 

When I ran water through the drain, there were some definite leaks. I tightened everything up and noticed that one of the flanges was skewing a pipe joint, unsealing it and causing the leak.  The  disposal drain tube needed lengthening, so back to Rice's I went. With the drain tube longer, the pipes were water tight.

Next step was to install an outlet and a switch. The outlet was under the sink at the back of the space, so I spent a pleasant time lying on my stomach attaching wires and putting them into the box and bolting the cover on,.  The switch went more easily.  I turned the breaker back on and threw the disposal switch.  Nothing.  I checked the breaker panel and saw the disposal breaker had thrown. I had a short somewhere. So it was back under the sink where I found a hot wire had come loose and was shorting itself out against the metal box.  I reattached it and tried again.  No luck. I pulled the switch wires out and found a wire had come loose. With that reattached, it worked!  I wished I had something to grind up but I didn't.

The last trip to Rice's was for a switch plate.  The crew there practically applauded when I told them it was the last thing I needed for the project.  I had worked with a couple of breaks from 9:30 until 5:30 on these two simple additions in addition to about eight hours during the week of prep time. OK, I'm slow.

Plumbers and electricians are paid well, and I'm here to tell you they earn very cent of it. Just don't try this at home unless you have a lot of time and are full up of patience.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Let the Shoeshine In

I did something the other day that I rarely do--I polished my shoes. Or, to be more accurate, I polished my sandals, which I wear almost exclusively in the summer.  They were scuffed and dirty, and while I wasn't going to attend any gala balls in them, I just decided it was time to give them a shine.  So I dug out the shoeshine shoe box (appropriate, wouldn't you say?), selected a bottle of Kiwi's finest quick shine, complete with an attached applicator, and laid on a smooth even coat of wax. Or polish. Or whatever.  My sandals looked great!  Almost great enough to compensate for my ugly feet.(Not being modest: they are indeed ugly.) Then I was off to whatever occasion had caused me to undertake this rare activity.

I still see shoeshine stands in places like airports and train stations so I suppose that people still shine their shoes or have them shined.  I read somewhere that one could judge a man's character by how well his shoes were shined.  I'm not sure of that as a moral index, but it does seem that shining shoes has diminished in popularity in recent years. It could have to do with fewer people wearing leather shoes.  When I taught high school, the school required that the students wear leather shoes--no sports shoes or sandals or flip-flops.  Many students had to go out and buy a pair.  I also spent a good deal of time tying ties for students who never wore one.  I didn't attempt to do this on the student: I tied it on myself and slipped it over my head and put it around the student's neck.  I couldn't handle the cognitive shift necessary to tie a tie on someone else.

So, shoeshine people. professional or personal, here's to you. As Dionne Warwick sang, "Keep smiling, keep shining!"

Thursday, August 18, 2011

An Unexpected Moment of Beauty

In our suburban town, we are not overrun with wildlife except for squirrels that steal bird food. I gave up on feeding the birds, discovering that there is no such thing as a "squirrel proof" feeder, only one that is "squirrel resistant."  Once I hung a tube feeder on a wire suspended between two trees, forty feet away from either tree.  The squirrels went paw over paw on the wire and then hung upside down to gorge themselves on the seed.  That's when I gave up on bird feeding. Maybe I will try again some day.

Anyhow, we do have the occasional deer sighting as do most suburbans neighborhoods in this area. There is a fox in our neighborhood, and one lady we know can see a fox's den from her back door, complete with kits romping together.We have had possums and raccoons visit our trash cans, although their attentions were not the kind we wanted.

I had an unexpected and beautiful encounter with a wild animal the other day. One of the ways I can reach the retirement home where my father lives is to go down a kind of back street that borders a townhouse community. People from the townhouses park their cars and trucks on the side of the road, which is not paved and slopes down to the back yard of the houses.  The result is a messy looking collection of vehicles jammed together just off (or barely on) the pavement, perched at steep angles on the slope. I realize it's the only option for parking for the residents, but it is not what anyone would call aesthetically pleasing. The cars and trucks also narrow the travel lane, so it's a road I drive down carefully.

I was proceeding down this lane a couple of days ago when I saw something moving between a couple of the cars. I figured it was a dog, and slowed accordingly. It wasn't a dog, though: it was a tiny spotted fawn that walked carefully on its little legs across the road. I stopped for her to cross, thinking there would be a mother doe coming along in a few seconds. She didn't come, and the little creature looked at me for a few seconds and then picked her way across the rest of the road to vanish into some tall weeds on the other side.

Sometimes we seek out beauty in musical performances, art galleries, the faces of small children, the glories of a sunset, or the spectacular colors of autumn leaves. Sometimes we unexpectedly come across beauty, if only in the time it takes for a fragile creature to cross a road.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Raindrops Keep Falling on My Gauge

I suppose I should add to that title and put, "That is, if it ever rained around here." It will come, grasshoppers.  Patience.

I'm a weather fan.  It just fascinates me and I have an electronic indoor/outdoor thermometer and a rain gauge. I know--look out Weather Service in Sterling!  The big weather dog is in the house!

My rain gauge lives on our sketchy-looking deck (but then we are not Deck People and rarely go out on it except to take out the trash and survey the vast expanse of our 1/8 acre back yard which is also sketchy-looking). My old rain gauge was I think a giveway, plastic with an ad for seeds on a flange sticking out from the tube.  The plastic had fogged up and the seed ad faded so I decided it was time for a new one.  I hied myself to a local store which will remain nameless except to say its initials consist of two repeated letters with two curves each. I bought a nice little glass gauge and installed it in the same location.

It didn't work. How something that has no moving parts doesn't work is a puzzlement, but the gauge basically didn't measure rain.  We would have a heavy thunderstorm and it would sit there with about 1/10 of an inch in its little tube. I put the old one up as a comparison and after a thunderstorm Mr. Old Reliable If Sketchy-Looking Gauge registered 3/4 of an inch. Mr. Glass Newcomer showed...1/10 of an inch. Either Mr. G. N. was fixated or had too small an opening to work, except his opening was the same as Mr. O.R.I.S-L.

I took the offending gauge back to the store for a refund.  Here follows the actual dialogue with the nice young clerk at the store:

Me: I'd like to return this for a refund, please.
Nice young clerk: What's wrong with it?
Me: It doesn't work.
Nice Young Clerk: It doesn't work? What do you mean?
Me: It doesn't measure rainfall accurately.
Nice Young Clerk: Do you have it in a location where it can catch the rain?
Me: . . . Yes.
Nice Young Clerk: Does it leak?
Me: No. I tested it.
Nice Young Clerk: How do you know it's not accurate?
Me: I compared it to a known good gauge.
(I thought we were on our way to 20 questions. I just wanted to see how many this would take.)
Nice Young Clerk: Do you want another one?
Me: No. I think the design is defective.  I'd just like a refund.
Nice Young Clerk: OK. Fill out this form.

I did get my $5.34 back. The form had a space called, "Reason for Return."  I wrote, "It doesn't work.  I promise you."

I put up a nice big plastic gauge.  We'll see how it does. I hope it works. I only have 14 questions left to go, after all.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sam, You Made the Pants Too Long

I've become interested in blogs during the time I've been writing this one. There are, of course, people who don't know what a "blog" is (I didn't either for a long time so I get that)--it's short for weblog.  (Two words crammed together is called a portmanteau.  "Chortle" is one, combining "chuckle" and "snort."  Thank you, Lewis Carroll.)

Anyhow, I was reading the blog of Seth Godin, whom I heard speak at a teleconference last week.  Godin is an entrepreneur, author and public speaker and popularized the idea of permission marketing, whatever that it.  (You can read about it in his books and online.) Godin is one of those people that you listen to and think, "This man has truly original insights and ideas.  He can see things and life, society and commerce that others aren't even aware of." (He also has cool glasses.)  And then you think, "I am an idiot. I think I'll go watch Jersey Shore or something." (If Jersey Shore is your favorite show, I apologize. Don't send Guido to rearrange my kneecaps.)

Here is a sample of a Seth Godin blog  for August 12 (Hope I don't get into copyright trouble with this. I think it falls under the domain of quoting for review purposes.  Yeah, that's it.):

Can and Should

Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should.

The end of the industrial era is opening countless doors. So many doors, in fact, that it's easy to become paralyzed. Without a clear understanding of what you want, it's harder than ever to get it.
Most of the time, we treat our careers like a buffet. "Show me what's available and then I'll decide..."

With the revolution going on all around us, there's so much on the buffet you're likely to just grab something convenient. Better, I think, to decide what matters first, and go do that.

The careful reader will notice a couple of differences between Seth's  blog and mine.  First of all, his is shorter, although he does have some longer ones.  Secondly, he actually says something insightful. Mine, well, you know. That's why he has a gazillion followers and I have eight (But I love each of you MADLY).

I think I'll go burn some toast and eat it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Series of Fortunate Events*

(The title for this post is a play on the wonderful Daniel Handler series, A Series of Unfortunate Events. If you have not read any of these books, stop reading, get a copy and read any or all of them!)

This weekend was another example of my brother Ron's saying that he would rather be lucky than good. We were lucky to be a part of two rather remarkable events.

The first was a memorial service for the late Margaret Hunt,  a local piano teacher who passed away in May. More than a piano teacher, she was a force of nature,  a driving force in the local music community and beyond.  Margaret, by turns, as the speakers at the service indicated, could be charming, infuriating, sensitive, insensitive, funny, grouchy, caring and cold, but there was never any doubt where she stood.  I did not relate well to her when I first met her: she was also loud and pushy. In time, though, I relaxed and just joked with her.  She was the primary organizer of the annual National Federation of Music Clubs festival held at our church, the largest in the state, with over 1000 thousand anxious students playing before judges and their friends and parents in the areas of piano, strings and voice.  Students earned points which translated into gold cups.  I think the ne plus ultra was the hundred point cup which Becky earned back in the day, as well as did Amy. The 100-point cup would hold about about a quart and are rather impressive. Becky's is in a closet some place and I think Amy has hers.

Margaret's service was delayed so that Zuill Bailey, a superb cellist from this area who is internationally known, could play. A bagpiper played outside as guests arrived. The service began with a half hour musical prelude of five vocal and instrumental pieces by Zuill and local musicians. The service itself included traditional prayers, hymns, scripture, music and a thoughtful sermon by Jeff Wilson of Bethel Evangelical Lutheran.  Friends and relatives spoke about Margaret in a series of "biologues," giving those present a more complete picture of this one-of-a-kind person.

After the singing of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" as a benedictory hymn, Carl Hunt, Margaret's husband, spoke, thanking those involved in the service.  Then he talked about the New Orleans funeral tradition of a jazz band accompanying the casket to the cemetery playing dirges and then breaking into an up-tempo version of "When the Saints Go Marching In." He announced the name of the jazz band from Alexandria, Mike Flaherty's Dixieland Direct Jazz Band (I think) which came down the aisle playing "Just a Closer Walk with Thee." They were the real deal! They moved to the front of the sanctuary and played "Amazing Grace."  Then the drummer snapped into an uptempo figure and the band launched into "When the Saints." They led the relatives sporting parasols out of the church while the congregants waved white handkerchiefs.  The band came back in and played during the reception in the narthex while we ate some of the best New Orleans style food I have ever had. I won't say how many crab cakes I had, but it was more than one.

The service all told took two hours but it was memorable. I had never been a part of a jazz funeral, and it was a unique experience.

Later than evening, another fortunate event was a 60th birthday party for a doctor from Richmond who grew up here. (I am not revealing his name for privacy reasons.) This was a warm and touching event, with friends and relatives present, and sharing of stories and some superb food (notice the theme of great food here). The doctor has saved countless lives and helped cure thousands of people. He has also gone on numerous medical mission trips. He is also one of the most humble people I know and a man of deep faith. He talked with me about how he depended on God and how he was still learning, realizing how little he truly knew. I thought toward the end of the evening that here is a good man. We are fortunate to know him, and we were fortunate to experience these two unique and touching events. Lemony Snicket to the contrary, good and beautiful things do happen to us.

* From Wikipedia:
A Series of Unfortunate Events is a series of children's novels (or novellas) by Lemony Snicket (the nom de plume of American author Daniel Handler) which follows the turbulent lives of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire after their parents' death in an arsonous house fire. The children are placed in the custody of their distant cousin Count Olaf, who begins to abuse them and openly plots to embezzle their inheritance. After the Baudelaires are removed from his care by their parents' estate executor, Arthur Poe, Olaf begins to doggedly hunt the children down, bringing about the serial slaughter and demise of a multitude of characters.

The entire series is actively narrated by Snicket, who makes numerous references to his mysterious, deceased love interest, Beatrice. Both Snicket and Beatrice play roles in the story along with Snicket's family members, all of whom are part of an overarching conspiracy known to the children only as "V.F.D."

Friday, August 12, 2011

Pocketful of Miracles

I think cell phones are a great invention. I know, they can be annoying at times like when someone has an annoyingly loud and inane conversation in a  restaurant. It just takes some common sense (and common courtesy) to figure out when to use one. But it's a great way to stay in touch with children or to take callbacks from doctors' offices while running around town. I wonder how many lives have been saved in accidents since cell phones are commonly available for emergency calls.

I remember going to pick up the girls at the airport some time in the late '90's and being shocked at how many cell phones there were in use.  As a teacher I didn't get out much and the world changed in the meantime.

Though I'm fairly adept with a cell phone. Amy showed me how to do predictive texting, and since both she and Alyssa prefer to communicate through texts it's a good thing. Other features mystify me.  Occasionally my phone, which I keep in my left front pants pocket, will call a number on its own. Or it starts talking, unbidden.  Spooky. And there was the time I put two hotel room cards in succession in the pocket with my phone which damaged the cards. Magnetism is a powerful force.

The oddest thing I've done with a cell phone, though, is somehow take a picture of the inside of my pocket. I don't know how to operate the camera on the phone but somehow the camera goes off occasionally on its own. I became aware of this anomaly when I was looking through the features of the phone to see how many I had no idea how to use and came across 43 pictures of the inside of my pocket in a folder under "Pictures" on the phone. (Strangely enough.) For those who would like to know what these pictures looked like, here's an example of a picture of the inside of my pocket:

Exciting, huh? I think it looks like an empty region of outer space. (I guess there are such things. I was an English major, after all.) Or maybe it's a black hole which will suck in the entire universe next week. In that case, I wouldn't have to worry about learning all the features of my phone.

The fact that a picture of a small space (my pocket) looks like a picture of some of the universe reminds me of the discussions we had in college about microcosm and macrocosm.  We concluded, I believe, that at extremes there is no difference between the two. Today, I have no idea what that might have meant but then it made total sense.

Apparently there's more room in my pocket than I thought. Maybe that's where the single socks go to hide when they're washed. Stranger things have happened.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Slow Learner

Teachers spend a lot of time figuring out "learning styles," the preferred method a student has and the most effective way a particular student can be taught. My knowledge in this area is about ten years old so if my comments are decidedly old school, please consider the ancient source. (If not the Ancient Mariner.)

I think a useful way of thinking about learning styles is the mode the student uses to learn.  There are visual learners, auditory learners, kinesthetic learners,just to name a few types. These styles are related to the theory of multiple intelligences (which Amy tells me has been somewhat discredited, but bear with me, please), which says that there is no one type of intelligence.  Traditionally, verbal intelligence has been dominant, but there is evidence that there is social intelligence, emotional intelligence, spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic,musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic and existential.  I'm not sure what some of these are, but there are a number of articles online that explain them.  Suffice it to say that most adults are visual learners who rely on verbal intelligence to learn. In choir, for example, most people who read music tend to learn by visually reading the music(quite a concept, I know).  When we as a choir  have to learn something by listening, we are out of our comfort zone.  I know I am.

But I didn't come here to talk about that.  I came to talk about how I'm a slow learner.  Maybe a better term is "long learner."  If I grasp something right away, I get it (duh). If I don't, it takes me a long time to figure it out, but I have German persistence in my genes and I keep at it until I get it.  Or not, as in the case of statistics or cricket.  Not going to happen. I tried.

Playing guitar is a good example of long learning.  I am not gifted musically and have to work at it.When I first took up guitar at age 14, I was a long learner compared to other people I know.  I taught myself by watching and listening to other people play when I could and using books. Another method I used was to play records (those 12 inch vinyl disks that we played on turntables) at 16 2/3 rpm, a speed on some turntables for recordings for the blind.  Playing a 33 1/3 record at 16 2/3 rpm slowed down a song by half and lowered it an octave. I would  play along with the record that way for a while and gradually work my way up to playing the song at normal speed. I wonder what I would have done if I had been learning during the days of CD's.

Anyhow, I bopped along learning licks for a couple of years and then I plateaued and didn't learn much for the next 48 years. It's OK, I'm a hack guitarist and enjoy playing just for the sake of playing.

There was one figure from a Gordon Lightfoot song that eluded me until last week. I had tried to play it for decades with no success. It comes at the end of each verse of "Song for a Winter's Night," a beautiful song that Lightfoot wrote about the speaker being away from a loved one and thinking of him/her while the snow falls outside. Although it is full of wintery images and sensibilities, he wrote it in the summer during a thunderstorm in Cleveland.  Go figure.

Anyhow, I couldn't get the turnaround at the end of each verse.  The song is in A, generally played in G capoed to the second fret. (Guitar players, you know what I'm talking about.) The bit sounded like it was minor, but nothing I tried worked.  Then I saw it was a sample online video lesson. It was so simple I don't know why it eluded me for decades: Dm7, C, D, G. Wow. I got it.

Like I said, I'm a long learner. It may take me a while but I'll get there.  Maybe this is something to remember as those of us who work with young people try to understand how they learn and help them learn.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Let's Make a Deal

I'm not what anyone would call a deal-maker. I usually pay list price for what I buy, although lately I've become more aware of the wonders of coupons. Now, Becky and my brother Ron are all over deals.  I think Becky has almost walked out of stores in which they  paid her to take the merchandise (Only a slight exaggeration.) One of her best buys was a $250 ring she bough at Kohl's  for $1.41. The ring was on sale, there was a 15% Night Owl Special, she had a further charge customer discount of 15% and used two gift cards and a partial one to come up with the final price. (Do not try this yourself unless you are a consummate shopper such as Becky is.  You could be seriously injured in the  attempt.)

Starting last Monday evening, though, I had about a 24-hour run of deals that fell into my lap. In no case was I looking for bargains, but there they were anyhow.

It started Monday evening when we decided to rent The King's Speech from Red Box.  It is an amazing movie, and you should stop reading this and go see it right away.  You'll thank me later. Anyhow, I logged on to Red Box to reserve the film and the checkout indicated I had a credit and that the movie was free.  I have no idea why but I was good with it. ( We rarely see films in the theater and catch them later on DVD.  The exceptions are the Harry Potter movies, which we saw in the theater except for 7.1 which we watched at home to fill us in before we saw 7.2 in the theater.  It is an engrossing and moving film. You should stop reading this and go see it now. And now that I think of it, the only other movie we have seen in the past ten years on the big screen was Seabiscuit. Another good one.)

A friend had asked me Sunday if I were interested in a couple of free tickets to a Nats game in September.  Her office was going and they had a couple of extras.  The deal included a free hot dog and drink. Yes, I was interested! She sent an email confirming the deal Monday morning and we were good to go.

Monday afternoon I went to wash my pickup since I was planning on selling it to Car Max the next day if the price was right (it was, and that was another deal).  I pulled into the car wash place and a couple of guys were working on the control box that money is deposited in.  One of them told me they'd have it fixed in a couple of minutes.  After about ten minutes, the guy came over and told me to go through, that the wash was free since I had to wait.  Score!

Then I went over to Home Depot to get some materials to do some electrical work on the house. I got a current tester to try to avoid the shocks I usually get when I work with household current. There was a nice yellow one on sale for $6, discounted from $22.  Deal.  When I took it to the register, it rang up as one cent.  The checker said it was a secret discount.  Yay!

My next stop was Lowes to check on insulation for an attic insulating project. They had denim insulation (doesn't make you itch like a man on a fuzzy tree like fiberglass insulation does)on  clearance for less than half-price! I got ten bales of R-19 and was a happy fellow.

Later on that afternoon, Becky sent me a link for a Groupon coupon (I know, it rhymes) good for a 50% discount at a nice local restaurant.  We liked the idea so much we got two! Again, I was doing nothing but sitting at the computer, fat, dumb and happy.

After all this, I felt as if I should buy a lottery ticket, except I am cheap and don't gamble.  I could invest in the stock market...or maybe not. I am trying to stimulate the economy.

My brother Ron says he would rather be lucky than good. I had about a twenty-four hour period where I was both. I hope you are, too.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Comfort of Grammar

Now, there are two words most of us never expected to see together in one phrase. There's the old saying about grammarians being dead from the waist down [ask your momma when you're asking her where babies come from.  Answer: "From your mom or something else." A line from my TV favorite commercial (from Kaiser Permanente)-- the little kid with the big ears slays me every time.]. Did you notice, faithful blog readers, what I did there, putting the parens mark [(  )] inside the bracket mark { [  ] }. How did I know to do that? Answer: I guessed!  No, I relied on my knowledge of grammar! (And I think I did it correctly.)

As an English teacher and even into retirement, I find people ask me questions about grammar, like "Do I use 'who' or 'whom' here?" My answer depends on the rarity of the usage.  "Who" and "whom" are sometimes tough nuts to crack since their usage depends on their function in the sentence. ("Who" for subjective case, "whom" for objective.) That means you have to figure out the function of the word, which is difficult on the fly. That's why the distinction is disappearing, even among educated speakers. It's just too hard to come up with the right case, even with an educated speaker.

Language lesson: part of the problem stems from the first English grammars, put together in the eighteenth century. They were based on Latin grammars since Latin was regarded as a superior language. Latin has cases, so English has cases.  Latin is an inflected language, meaning the form of the word relies on its function in the sentence.  If the word is the subject of the sentence, say, it is in subjective case: "I did the deed."  If the word is an object, it uses objective case, "Just between you and me, I think hats with fascinators are strange."

The problem is that English is not a Romance language, derived from Latin. It is a Germanic language, closer to Dutch than to French, say. You may thank the Germanic tribes who swept through Europe following the collapse of the Roman Empire.  Add some French from the takeover of England by the Normans in the eleventh century and you have (more or less) English.

English as a Germanic language is a syntactic language, relying on word order to determine case. Anything to the left of the verb is subjective; anything to the right, objective. This can lead to buzzing in our ears. "It is I" is technically correct since "is" is a linking verb and the predicate nominative "I" is in subjective case, but it sounds stuffy.  "It's me" sounds natural and relaxed and follows the Germanic rules of objective form after the verb.  What a mess!

I try not to exercise my powers as a grammar policeman unless someone asks me. I think it's obnoxious to correct someone else's speech or writing unbidden. I have to admit, though, that my correction finger itches when I see something like "Stewed in it's own juices."  Ugh. You know.

In any case, I came here to talk about the comfort of grammar. I was writing along when I came up with this construction: "Here are the words to 'Creation Will Be at Peace'":. (Check out that single quote-double quote-colon-period sequence. Like a double play.) I couldn't remember if the colon went inside the quote or outside, so I pulled out my Warriner's Complete Course, 1973 edition.  There was the answer, on page 650, "Semicolons and colons are always placed outside the closing quotation marks." Here is where the comfort of grammar came in, knowing I could look up the correct use. I really did feel better.

I know this has been a post that only a mother could love, but I hope you enjoyed it somehow. Grammar and language are always changing (the distinction between "shall" and "will" is no longer in house),  which is a good thing. I'd hate to run around speaking Anglo-Saxon all the time.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Peaceable Kingdom

As Alyssa tells it, When I was little, my mom wanted to take us to a music festival at Wolf Trap. Being terrified of wolves, I was not interested. She even called Wolf Trap so they could tell me there were no wolves there. One of the first acts was "Peter and the Wolf," complete with man in wolf costume. My dad said I climbed up him and screamed for a long time. I did not go back to Wolf Trap for 25 years. Good parenting, mom and dad. 

There's a little more to this story.  We could not figure out why Alyssa was so terrified (before the appearance of the person in the wolf costume prancing down the aisle) the whole time we were there.  Much, much later we found out that her sister was whispering to her in the back seat on the way over that we were lying about the wolves, that they were lurking in the woods at Wolf Trap, and they had a special taste for little girls her age.  Sisterly affection is a wonderful thing.

Eventually, of course, Alyssa overcame her fear of wolves, and this story is now part of family lore.  When she sent the picture of her and the wolf, she also wrote when I asked her what she was there for,  I was there to conquer my childhood fears. AND I DID. I think she was only being half jocular. Facing and overcoming childhood fears occupies us all and takes so much courage (I am still afraid of snakes). 

I was also thinking of this experience in conjunction with the passage from Isaiah 11 sometimes called "The Peaceable Kingdom":  

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 

This passage was the basis for American artist Edward Hicks' painting depicting the events described there.  Hicks actually painted hundreds of versions during his lifetime.

It is also the basis for a beautiful anthem with words by the late J. Paul Williams and music by Anna Laura Page.  Becky directed it during our choir tour in Germany and France. I found it particularly poignant to sing it while looking out over the grave markers at the American Cemetery in Lorraine, France.

In the holy mountain of the Lord
all war and strife will cease.
In the holy mountain of the Lord
creation will be at peace.

The leopard and goat will graze,
The lion will feed on straw,
They will war no more,
A child shall lead them all.

(A video of the European Tour Choir singing “Creation Will Be at Peace” at Heidelberg Cathedral may be found at

And one final picture.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but in this life, fears are overcome, there is forgiveness and there is peace. A child, even an adult child, shall lead them indeed.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

More Top Ten Places to Visit

The top ten list of places to visit has become more like the top thirty places to visit in the D.C. area, but the suggestions from faithful blog readers are too good to pass up. Here they are:

From Nick Pegram, who knows all about Richmond:

Since you will be spending the night at the Jefferson, you might want to visit the Edgar Allen Poe museum, St. John's Church, St. Paul's Church (across from the state capitol), Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Dooley Mansion (a Victorian at Maymont Park), the Valentine Museum, and the White House of the Confederacy. Before leaving take a ride down Monument Avenue that includes statues of famous war heroes, Arthur Ashe, and other people of note. Now that I look back at the list you might want to book two nights at the Jefferson. 

I thought of a few more:

For Mary McElveen, who is from Baltimore, the Inner Harbor, the Baltimore Aquarium, and Camden Yards baseball stadium. Closer to home, I'll add Nationals Park and Washington Cathedral.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Miracle on Sudley Road

I know most of us think of miracles as involving angels and rescues, close escapes from danger, or the curing of hopeless diseases.  I think miracles like these still occur, but there's one miracle that takes place involving group of children and adults who come together mornings during a week in late July or early August.  What they do and what they accomplish is truly miraculous.

I'm talking about Summer Music Camp at Manassas Baptist Church, now in its twenty-fourth year, directed by my wife, Becky Verner.  This year there are about ninety campers and forty-two faculty members. During the week the children learn a musical which they will perform memorized, complete with choreography and drama.  There is Musikgarten for ages four through kindergarten involving 30 children.  Students in grades one through six also experience crafts, puppets, choreography, hand chimes, drama, and instrument demonstrations from a variety of musicians. This year the instruments included oboe, clarinet, a flute, trombone, trumpet, saxophone and bassoon.

The people who work in this camp, year after year and decade after decade, are a joy to watch.  Becky has led state-level children's choirs and teaches in the Baptist state music camp. She works magic with groups of children. Bruce Snyder, a retired Prince William G/T teacher, shares his directing and drama insights with a group of students. Kathi Crowder works out engaging and memorable choreography with the children. Sue Ellen Kinser leads the Musikgarten class. These are only four of dozens of adults who share their gifts of working with children and teaching them not only about music but also about cooperation and hard work. Their love for their charges is manifestly evident.

The faculty this year included Cheryl Bolt, Connor Bolt, Jeremy Bolt, Trey Boltz, Susan Briscoe, Taylor Briscoe, Jen Crowder, Kathi Crowder, Amandia Daigneault, Marie Egeland, Katina Gerstein, Joanne Gonzalez, Callie Hazlett, Kimberley Hill, Michael Hill, Sue Ellen Kinser, Onie Libeau, Jean Carol Nelson, Glenna Ohlms, Caden Palmer, Joy Peters, Aaron Pritchard, Pat Quinones, Amani Redic, Bridget Rose, Kristen Rose, Pam Rose, Sarah Scott, Bruce Snyder, Michelle Taylor, Norma Thompson, Amy Verner, Becky Verner, Mettie Wallace.
Other people involved with the camp were some Week of Hope participants, Curtis Bueno, John Button, Joshua Pankey, Mike Varnadore, Meryl Franck, Lois Thorpe, Michelle Taylor, Marge Danner, Kimberley Hill, Mary Staggs, Michelle Taylor, Judy Miller, Joy Morgan, camper parents, grandparents, friends and relatives, the MBC Ministry Team, support staff, and custodial staff.  It takes a village to work a miracle. 

The final program in which the campers show what they've learned is tonight at 7:30 PM in the sanctuary of Manassas Baptist Church, 8800 Sudley Road, Manassas VA.  They will perform the musical Heroes of the Faith. If you have the opportunity, come witness a miracle taking place.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off—or Not

If you want to have some fun today, sing the Gershwin song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” without pronouncing the key words differently.  The song is supposed to be sung,

You like potayto and I like potahto
You like tomayto and I like tomahto
Potayto, potahto,
Tomayto, tomahto.
Let's call the whole thing off!

Imagine the hilarity if you sang,

You like potayto and I like potayto
You like tomayto and I like tomayto
Potayto, potayto,
Tomayto, tomayto.
Let's call the whole thing off!

People will be ROTFL!

I was thinking about the Gershwins the other day and their enormous contribution to American music.  George died at a young age, but together with his lyricist brother Ira they produced some of the finest music anywhere.  In my humble un-music schooled opinion.

I got to know more about the music of the Gershwins from a Michael Feinstein CD entitled Pure Gershwin. We first had the collection as an LP about the time Alyssa was eight. We listened to it so much she was probably the only child her age who could sing from memory “Embraceable You” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.”  I would have to say that “Our Love Is Here to Say” on that album is my favorite song ever.  What an amazing and beautiful melody and lyrics!

It's very clear
Our love is here to stay
Not for a year, but ever and a day

The radio
And the telephone
And the movies that we know
May just be passing fancies and in time may go

But oh my dear
Our love is here to stay
Together we're going a long long way

In time the Rockies may crumble
Gibraltar may tumble
They're only made of clay
But our love is here to stay…

We acquired a CD of the Feinstein collection at some point but it has disappeared.  I went to buy another one and found that they are selling new on Amazon for between  $150 and $272! A musical rarity.

We heard Michael Feinstein at Wolf Trap a few years ago and were pleased and amazed that his voice, serviceable at best on the album, had improved wonderfully.  He might have taken voice lessons (Judy Collins did, after she was successfully established as a singer).

In any case, I am thankful today for the gift of so many wonderful songs from two talented brothers. Give them a listen. I think you’ll be pleased.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Houses Built on Sand and Silver Linings

If you've been following these posts the past few days, you know that Monday night I discovered that the condensate from the HVAC drain had seeped under a partition and soaked an area rug in a storage area. I used the wet-dry vac on the carpet and then cut it into pieces to take it out since the sodden carpet was too heavy to lift in one piece. There was about a foot wide piece I left since it ran under a couple of seven-foot tall bookcases loaded with books and a couple of four-drawer files cabinets loaded with files.

I went downstairs Tuesday evening to move the bookcases and file cabinets and take the last of the carpet out. I thought about unloading the bookcases before I moved them.  I decided I could move them without unloading them.

At this point I am reminded of the parable of the wise and foolish builders from the Gospel of Matthew.

Matthew 7:24-27:  (ASV) Every one therefore that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, who built his house upon the rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and if fell not: for it was founded upon the rock. And every one that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and smote upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall thereof.

Put me down for a foolish man in trying to move a fully loaded bookcase. I moved one off the carpet with success and started on the other one.  The interior shelves were held by those  thin metal clips, one of which broke under the stress of being shifted.  The shelf (and books) fell onto the shelf and books below it and the next and the next.  There was a cascade of books pouring out of the bookcase.  I had two thoughts: It's raining books and "great was the fall thereof." Even though I don't move as quickly as I used to, I leaped out of the way of the torrent of hard- and paperbacks with considerable alacrity.

I think I said that the silver lining in taking up the carpet was finding a dulcimer neck to a kit I had lost track of.  In this case, the silver lining was going through all the fallen books, some of which I had forgotten I owned.  I listened over the radio to the Nats pound the Braves and stacked books for an hour.

In spite of the fall, it was enjoyable.  Sometimes even a foolish man lucks out.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fire and Flood

If you've been following these entries, you might remember that I wrote about the condensate drain on our air conditioner backing up a bit and my adventures with the wet-dry vacuum.  Well, not so fast, there, Sparky.  On the other side of a partition is a storage space where I have a lot of books and where we, well, store things.  I went into the room last night about 8 PM to look for a book and noticed the area rug was decidedly squishy.  I didn't have a bit of water, I had a lot of water.  Fortunately the carpet absorbed a lot of it and kept it from spreading. Unfortunately there was a lot of stuff sitting on the carpet which I had to move.  Then I cut the carpet up since it was too heavy to carry out and stuffed it in plastic bags.  I used our friend the wet-dry vac to take up most of the water and set a fan on it overnight.  This morning the area is completely dry.

Obviously I wasn't too happy about the situation, having to labor late into the evening. I found that condensate drains have a tendency to clog and the cure is either to snake them out or vacuum them out before they clog completely.  Mea culpa for not doing so.

Earlier that afternoon, Alyssa sent me an email about an unfortunate family in her neighborhood:

There was apparently a huge house fire in Stone Ridge last night.  All of the people and animals got out okay, but the kids are 9 and 11, and the dad passed away unexpectedly last year.  Poor children.  The HOA is already organizing a walk to benefit the family, and they are staying with relatives locally.  So sad.  In the meantime, they have asked for gift cards, so I think I'll pick one up on my way home and drop it off at the HOA office.  The nice thing is that Stone Ridge is a good community, so I think they'll get lots of assistance.

And later,

One of the neighbors was collecting donations tonight after the HOA office was closed, so I took a card and a check over.  I didn't realize I'd walk by the actual house--it was awful.  You could smell the burnt smell from streets away.  The neighbor said that the outpouring of support has been incredible--they have raised several thousand dollars in cash and several thousand in gift cards, plus a huge room full of new clothes, so that's good.  It's nice to think that if this happened to me or to any of the neighbors, the community would be supportive. If only Anne Bradstreet had something to say about this...*

And finally,

I did get the ages of the kids wrong--they are 12 and 17.  They both play sports, so people have also asked about donating sports equipment, as well as video games for the little boy. :)  People have also written cards, and the kids have drawn pictures.  Very cool.

This family's situation put my little problem with water into perspective.  It also affirmed that our daughters are compassionate, insightful, thoughtful young women (Amy recently offered to help in a situation I can't write about because of privacy concerns). They've evidenced these qualities time and times again.  Their attitudes and actions would make any parent proud.  And we are. 

* Alyssa is referring to a poem by the seventeenth-century American poet Anne Bradstreet, "Some Verses upon the Burning of Our House,July 10, 1666." You may read the poem at

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Perverse Nature of Inanimate Objects

Did you ever feel that your appliances were conspiring against you?  No, I'm not being more paranoid than usual--it's just something I've noticed.  The refrigerator develops a buzzing noise, then the washer won't drain, and next the microwave goes up in flames, all within a couple of days. Something is afoot and it ain't your shoes (sorry).

Here's a secret: household appliances communicate with each other.  The HVAC sends a message to the oven: "It's going to be over 100 tomorrow.  I'm goin' over the wall!"  The other appliances whisper "Good luck, man," and they get the idea.  The oven door drops off.  A day later the dishwasher springs a leak all over the kitchen floor. The vacuum shoots out clouds of dust from its exhaust.

You know what I'm talking about.

I had such a day Saturday.  Four different inanimate objects busted loose.  Fortunately I was able to fix them.

The condensate line of our air conditioner runs into a drain in the floor of the basement and usually backs up a little during the summer if we've had a series of hot days.  I suppose I should have the drain enlarged, but it runs through the basement slab floor and that would be a mess. I just vacuum it up each day for about a week.  Well, it backed up and I got the wet vac out, forgetting that the last thing I used it on was a drywall sanding job.  Since the filter was full of dust, the water couldn't get through to the tank and the vac spewed water out the back, all over the furnace and me.  Fortunately, I figured out that the filter needed cleaning so I did that and I was good to go, if soaking wet.

Then I was going to the grocery store and some citizen didn't see me and pulled out in front of me from a side street.  I crammed on the brakes and tried to blow the horn and nothing happened.  When I got back from buying bananas I tried to find the location of the horn relay but it wasn't listed in the owner's manual. I looked online for an hour before I found someone who said the location diagram it was printed on the inside of the engine fuse box cover.  And it was.  There was also a page online on how to test for a bad relay so I took my twelve-volt tester out and found that, yep, it was a bad relay.  I ordered one online since no one at Advance Auto seemed to know what I was talking about. The part was $15 and shipping was $12.  Still cheaper than a mechanic (sorry, Logan).

We use some portable fans on the upper floor since the air conditioning doesn't reach as well there.  I had not used an old floor fan yet this year but I was cleaning up my study and needed a fan in there.  When I started it up it sounded geriatric, which it is.  I took it apart, cleaned it and sprayed everything with WD-40.  It wheezed and groaned when it started up but the lubricant worked its way in and it took off.

Later on, my special three-headed flashlight started acting possessed.  It came on by itself and went off by itself. That's inconvenient when you're trying to see if the condensate drain is clogged up.  I figured the flashlight had a short somewhere so I took it apart and found some of the battery contacts were corroded. I can't remember the last time I've seen corrosion on a dry cell device.  I poured some vinegar on the offending contacts (didn't have any Coke) and the flashlight returned to normal.

I hope you don't have a spate of appliance problems as I did, but if you do, I also hope they're as easily fixed as mine were!