Friday, September 28, 2012

The No Shame Poetry Series Presents "Assay"


for Becky

I am silver but you
You are gold.
Wrenched from the earth
I must be processed, transformed
Treated to become myself.
Found in your most elemental form
In fresh running mountain streams
You drop into evidence at the bottom
Of copper pans and
Shine like stars through
Clear water.

I will do as a precious metal
But you,
You shine.
You are the gold standard.

I am silver but you
You are gold.

--Dan Verner

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Advice for Writers--Michael Moorcock

Michael Moorcock

1 My first rule was given to me by T.H. White, author of The Sword in the Stone and other Arthurian fantasies and was: Read. Read everything you can lay hands on. I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from Bunyan to Byatt.

2 Find an author you admire (mine was Conrad) and copy their plots and characters in order to tell your own story, just as people learn to draw and paint by copying the masters.

3 Introduce your main characters and themes in the first third of your novel.

4 If you are writing a plot-driven genre novel make sure all your major themes/plot elements are introduced in the first third, which you can call the introduction.

5 Develop your themes and characters in your second third, the development.

6 Resolve your themes, mysteries and so on in the final third, the resolution.

7 For a good melodrama study the famous "Lester Dent master plot formula" which you can find online. It was written to show how to write a short story for the pulps, but can be adapted successfully for most stories of any length or genre.

8 If possible have something going on while you have your characters delivering exposition or philosophising. This helps retain dramatic tension.

9 Carrot and stick – have protagonists pursued (by an obsession or a villain) and pursuing (idea, object, person, mystery).

10 Ignore all proferred rules and create your own, suitable for what you want to say.

from The Guardian

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Technology Wednesday--A Word to the Wise

I thought junior year in high school chemistry was going to be a disaster. There was a new curriculum with a lot of math, and let's just say I didn't do math, at least not very well. And the teacher was the Fury not only of the department, but of the school. She ruled through intimidation and fear. We were a bunch of "good" quiet kids, so her draconian measures were unnecessary, but she used them nonetheless. One guy, fresh in from California, dared to shrug when she asked him why he didn't have his homework. He disappeared from class and no one ever saw him again.

The class had 35 members, without enough places for everyone, so after about a week of this chemical reign of terror, Mrs. Ott--not her real name (she liked to say about almost everything, "This might be on the test" to increase our anxiety)--announced that five people would be forming another class. And miracle of miracles, I was one of the five. I was never so relieved in my life. I think the new teacher could have been Satan himself and we would have been glad.

Instead of Satan, our new teacher was a tiny quivering woman whom I will call Mrs. Carter fresh from a career as an industrial chemist who apparently decided to try her hand at teaching. She was terrified of us and grew so nervous she had to sit down every once in a while and calm her nerves. We were kind to her, knowing what we could be sent back to, and together we learned chemistry. One of the students, Dick, was a mathematical genius who went to M.I.T. and became a rocket scientist. When Mrs. Carter would lock up on a math problem, she would stare at the board and tremble more than usual. Dick got up, took the chalk from her, sat her down in her chair and worked the problem. "See?" he would say, and Mrs. Carter would nod her head with the rest of us.

She also made tests easy. If a concept or problem would be on the unit test, she would say, "A word to the wise--study this carefully." We just had to mark what she pointed out, study that, and do well on the test.

I was thinking of "a word to the wise" this week when my iPhone offered to update its OS--and in doing so, wiped out all my contacts, telephone numbers and calendar items. I have been trying to be all high-tech and keep everything on my phone, although I do have some random scraps of paper with information on them. I eventually found that I could recover most of the information from my computer, which synched with the phone when I uploaded some pictures about a month ago. That made reconstructing the information easier than had I been forced to start from scratch. I've heard from some other people who had the same experience and were fortunate enough to have the material synched as well. (I've also heard that the new OS drains the battery more quickly. Carry your charger with you at all times!)

So, my word to the wise is, back up your data. Back up your data. Back up your data. You'll be happy you did.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Biscuit City Chronicles--Digging to China

I saw the other day that Google Earth had added a new feature that allows users to dig a virtual hole from any spot on earth and see where they would come out on the other side. This reminded me of a popular belief when we were kids that if you dug a hole straight through the earth, you’d end up in China. Somehow, this benighted idea included everyone and everything being upside down on the other side of the earth.  Now, I don’t think we were especially stupid or even in the magical stage of cognitive development, but a few minutes with a globe and recall of the facts of gravity would have shown us just how dumb these ideas were.  And we weren’t little kids at the time. I remember being about ten years old and thinking this.
For the record, if we were to dig straight through the earth from this location, we’d end up in the ocean somewhere south-south-west of Australia. To come up in China, you’d have to start in Argentina. Not that we let facts get in our way.

One of our favorite places to play was a large vacant lot a couple of houses down from my house.  We met there and played all kinds of games, mostly involving throwing things at each other.  And of course at some point we decided to dig to China. This quest was made more difficult since none of us had a shovel and had no chance of borrowing one from a tool shed and carrying it down the street for several blocks. Kids couldn’t get away with anything in those days.  If our parents didn’t see us, a neighbor would, and come out, take the shovel away and tell our parents we were up to no good.  When we got home, our parents would grill us about why we had a shovel and what we were going to do with it.  The conversation would go something like this:

Parent: Mrs. Smith said she saw you walking down the street with a shovel this afternoon.
Kid: (under breath) Well, she’s a nosy old bat, isn’t she?

Parent: Excuse me?

Kid: I said, it was just like that…

Parent: What were you going to do with a  shovel?

Kid: Dig a hole.

Parent: Why?

Kid: (under breath) We wanted to dig down to China.

Parent: Where?

Kid: China.

Parent: Well, since you have so much energy, you can dig the weeds in the garden…

So, knowing how this would play out, we were reduced to using a couple of old serving spoons we had found for our excavation. We started digging in the rock hard clay soil characteristic of this area under a blazing sun and actually worked for a couple of hours.  By that time we had a hole about a foot and a half in diameter and six inches deep. I thought it was quite an accomplishment for a couple of kids with spoons. By then it was time to eat, and somehow we never got back to our hole to China.

I’m sure there were other absurd beliefs that we cherished, but about the only other one I can recall is the idea that, given the right kind of cape, I could fly like Superman.  I adopted the usual expedient of tying a bath towel around my neck and jumping off the front porch.  I didn’t achieve anything near flight. I was discouraged from this feat until I saw (on the back of a carrot bag, strangely enough) an ad for a “real flying cape.” This was apparently before the days of truth in advertising. I sent off my quarter and a few weeks later received in the mail a cape made of thin plastic that would have been red if it had been thick enough. I gleefully tied it around my neck and climbed to the top of our shed in the back yard.  Flight was just an instant away. I could fly to China!  No need to put all that effort into digging!  I took a deep breath and launched myself into the air and landed on my feet with a thud.  It really hurt and although I was on the short side to begin with, I was even shorter after my jump.  I threw the cape down in disgust and gave up on the idea of trying to fly that way.

Maybe we as kids had a kind of underlying interest in other cultures and took China as someplace exotic and different. We were fed a steady diet of adventure stories—tales about Admiral Byrd and Charles Lindberg and Chuck Yeager—and I believe we saw going to China as an adventure.  I was thinking of digging to China the other day when it occurred to me that in this area we are surrounded by people from all over the world. So we don’t have to dig to China.  China has come to us.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Some Odd Doings

Last week I witnessed or heard about some things that were, well, out of the ordinary.

Our younger daughter Alyssa, who is an ace Human Resources person (Your Neighborhood H.R. Lady, as she likes to style herself) was sharing with me some of the answers employees put for their emergency contact. She said that some people put 9-1-1. That same afternoon I was at a doctor's office and overheard a man registering as a new patient. The receptionist was very kind and patient with him since he seemed to have some trouble understanding some of the questions.

"Who should we put down for an emergency contact?" she asked.


"No," she told him, "someone we can contact in case of an emergency."

"Honey," he replied, "there ain't no one."

I thought it sad.

Then our local commuter rail, the VRE (Virginia Railway Express) was delayed as much as five hours Wednesday afternoon when someone left a box of unidentified body parts on or near the tracks. It turned out to be animal body parts. How many times does some Kentucky Fried Chicken mess up so many people's afternoon?

Then there was the inconsolable lad in the three-year-old preschool room  where I was installing coat hooks  Friday with my cordless drill and other implements of destruction. The boy started crying when I walked in the room carrying my tools. His kind and expert teachers asked him if he was afraid of me. He said no, and kept crying, saying he wanted his mom, who was teaching across the hall. One of the teachers thought the noise of the drill frightened him so she brought him over and I let him run it. When they moved away from me, he set up a howl again. After I was nearly finished, they gave up, having made a noble effort for over an hour to quiet the child. They took him over to his mom and came back, saying she told them that he was afraid of tools.I felt bad, but none of us knew. I could have come back later.

I don't blame the boy; each of us, for the most part, is afraid of something. I had a student who, as a high school junior, was terrified of clowns. A teacher dressed as a clown (there's a story there but I won't tell it here)  came into my room to ask me something, and the nice young woman freaked out. She was so bad off I had to have a friend take her to the clinic where I understand she finally calmed down. But it was a reminder of what fear can do to us.

Myself, I'm afraid of dogs because one bit me in third grade. But that's another story for another day.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Poem of the Week--Transformation


Mere pollen
Gold dust in the eye
Tranforms all
And all is golden, gilded, shining:
First dawn
Harvest fields
Light of late afternoon
Sunset through clouds
And moon's first beam
Stars against night sky
Gold of dreams:

Gold dust in the eye.

--Dan Verner

(Based on a phrase in a message from a  friend referring to pollen as "gold dust in the eye.")

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rules for Writing--Neil Gaiman

Rules for Writing

1 Write.

2 Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.

3 Finish what you're writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.

4 Put it aside. Read it pretending you've never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.

5 Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

6 Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.

7 Laugh at your own jokes.

8 The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

from The Guardian

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Born Free

The Money site on recently posted a list of "10 Things that Used to be Free" (I know, never start a sentence or title with a numeral, but that's how they had it) at if you want to read the comments and suggestions for avoiding charges. Here's a short form of their list:

1. Airline services
From baggage and leg room fees to charges for in-flight movies, meals and even bottles of water, airlines have "unbundled" many of their complimentary services and passed on these costs to the consumer. When my dad and I flew back from the Left Coast, we could have bought additional leg room. We also could have bought a nice little pillow and a tiny blanket or a two-week-old dried out turkey sandwich. We didn't.

2. Food delivery
Many restaurants now charge a delivery fee, usually anywhere from $1.50 to as much as $6. Then you're expected to tip the delivery person on top of that. I did not know this since we never have food delivered. Huh.

3. Banking
Today, charges abound -- from monthly charges to overdraft and ATM fees. Some banks have even charged for talking to a teller. According to Bankrate's 2011 Checking Account Survey, only 45% of non-interest checking accounts were free, and maintenance fees averaged $4.37 a month last year, up from $2.49 in 2010. The average AMT withdrawal fee for a noncustomer was $2.40. We still have free checking, but I have a bad feeling that it will be going away. On the bright side, a couple of accounts we have for some accounts related to family trusts actually reduced the minimum balance for free checking.

4. Television
Years ago, TVs with "rabbit ears" might have looked silly, but the programming was free. Today, local TV is still free, but more than 100 million American households pay for it through cable and satellite providers, according to research company SNL Kagan, and monthly costs average $50, or $75 for the digital version. Yep. And since Comcast "improved" our service with FIOS, navigating the remotes has become a daily challenge.

5. News
Sure, there's still plenty of news out there for free, but 20% of U.S. newspapers require readers to pay to access online content, according to Mashable. I think this trend is going to continue. 

6. Trash pickup
Trash removal is certainly something we wouldn't want to pay for, and often it's included in your property taxes. But in some areas, that's changing. According to a survey of 70 Indiana cities conducted by Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman, 46 of those cities have a trash fee, while only 24 have no fee. We have trash, recyling and yard waste pickup which comes out of property taxes. So far. I know people who pay for trash pickup find that the services compete with each other to see who can offer the lowest rates.

7. Gas station services
There was a time when gas station attendants would pump your gas and clean your windshield for free. Today, this complimentary service is nearly gone, with the exception of New Jersey and Oregon, where state laws prohibit self-service. Often, you'll even have to pay to pump air into your tires. Yep. So long, free air.  It was good knowing you.

8. School activities and facilities
As if college tuition wasn't high enough -- the average in-state tuition at public colleges is $8,244 a year, according to the College Board -- schools are increasingly charging extra fees for fitness facilities, parking garages or even campus health services. Pay to play seems to be the name of the game.

9. Directory assistance
Back in the day, you weren't charged for calling directory assistance. Today, calling or texting your carrier's 411 service could cost you a couple bucks. I hate using directory assistance. It's another one of those darned voice recognition programs. 

"Say a city and state, please."
"Manassas, Virginia."
"Montpelier, Vermont?"
"No! Manassas, Virginia! Virginia!"
"St. Thomas, Virgin Islands?"
"I'm sorry, I don't understand you."
"I'll transfer you to an agent."
"Whew. Why didn't you do that in the first place?"

10. Paying a bill by phone
Today, you often have to pay a fee just to pay your bill -- over the phone, that is. For example, DirecTV charges $5, and Verizon charges $3.50 for over-the-phone payments. Yes, and it costs to visit the DMV in person. But who wanted to do that in the first place? Our insurance company charges to pay the bill online, by telephone or through the mail. It's called a "convenience fee."  I called them once and asked who it was convenient for? They replied, for the consumer. I allowed as how it was not convenient for me to pay to pay. They allowed as how they would pass my feedback along. I suppose I'm fortunate they didn't charge me a feedback convenience fee.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Biscuit City Chronicles--Sea Monkeys, Roy Rogers and Magic Capes

I was about as gullible when I was a child as I was imaginative. I believed everything I read about or heard or saw on television was true, and especially the commercials. This is how (as I have written another time) I sent away for a Roy Rogers action set that promised, for a quarter, to deliver practically life-size figures of Roy, Dale, Pat Brady, their horses and Pat's Jeep. When the figures came, they were, in the words of my mother, "almost big enough to see" and molded in a plastic the color of, well, sorry, but the color of vomit. You think I would have learned from such an experience. But I didn't.

I also insisted on sending off for "a magic flying cape" as advertised on the back of a bag of carrots. The deal was I had to eat the carrots before ordering the cape which my mother assured me was a waste of time and money. It was. The "magic flying cape" was about a micron thick and ripped to shreds the first time I tried to fly off our porch and tore the thing to shreds.

Still, I did not learn, as the episode of the sea monkeys illustrates. Poet Leigh Giza mentioned sea monkeys in a Facebook post the other day and I was reminded of another adventure in consumer cluelessness on my part. The ads in comic books showed the "sea monkeys" as little monkeys in water dressed up like clowns, for some reason. They were, of course, brine shrimp, which, when they arrived and hatched, looked more like mosquito larvae than any kind of monkey. I guess. They were too small to tell what they looked like.

And so I was duped again. But then there was the ant farm, but that's another story entirely.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Good Meal, a Grace-Filled Speaker, a Trip Home, a Panel, a Handbell Concert and a Typical Sunday with Some Additions

Picking up the story of our packed weekend from last week, we went to a banquet Friday evening which actually started the convention of Pilots for Christ. The food was great and it was an opportunity to meet people from all over the country whom I had only know through emails or posts on the PCI website.

We then went to Walnut Hills Baptist Church for the speaker for the evening, Gracia Burnham. Gracia told a tale of captivity, grace and forgiveness in a riveting presentation lasting over an hour. Gracia and her husband were flying missionaries to the Philippines in 2001 when they were captured by Muslim guerillas and held for over a year. They were constantly on the run in the jungle, short of food, clothing, medical care or anything we take for granted. They were also caught in the crossfire of thirteen gun battles between their captors and Filipino army troops. In the thirteenth battle, Gracia managed to escape but was wounded in the leg.Her husband Martin unfortunately was killed in the gunfire.

She told the story of how she recovered, physically, mentally and spiritually, to the point that she began a ministry with her former captors who were captured and imprisoned for life. Four have undergone conversions.

She was an eloquent speaker with a sense of warmth and tranquility. She has a website at, for more information and has published a book about her experiences, In the Presence of My Enemies, as well as an inspirational book, To Fly Again. Both are available on

The next morning we came back home and I went to a panel discussion sponsored by Write by the Rails, our local writing support group. The topic was "Marketing Your Book," and our four panelists provided useful and practical information to the thirty or so people present.

That evening we went to a concert by the premier handbell group in the country and perhaps the world, the Raleigh Ringers. The concert, at the Hylton Performing Arts Center, was co-sponsored by the Manassas Chorale and Manassas Baptist Church.

Sunday we had the usual church and Sunday School in the morning, with a church picnic after services and a visit to my father in the afternoon. We ended the weekend with our own handbell rehearsal, which proved that we are not the Raleigh Ringers.

And so ended a packed weekend and varied activities. I have no complaints!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Poem of the Week--"September" by Guest Poet June Pair Kilpatrick

June Pair Kilpatrick is a member of Write by the Rails and author of Wasps in the Bedroom, Butter in the Well, her memoir of growing up in the Great Depression, a richly remembered story of people, places and events. It's available on Amazon at

June's poem about he glories of early autumn is in the tradition of English Romanticism. It reminds me of Shelley or Keats. Thanks to June for letting me share her poem.


September is King Midas.
He touches the land and, lo,
It is gold.

He lines the lanes with goldenrod,
Gilds the grasses' ripening heads,
Then scatters sunlit coreopsis till roadside ditches
Overflow with golden coins.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Advice for Writers--So That's How It's Done (More on Carpentry and Writing)

My father was, among other things during his working life, a "finish carpenter," meaning he did finishing work--interiors, mouldings, trim, all requiring precise measurement and a knowledge of how to work with walls that were not plumb or level and still make the end product look right. I was always impressed by his ability to look at a gap or hole or bolt and tell what size it was down to a 1/16 of an inch. He'd eye the head on a bolt and say, "Three-eighths." I helped him for years and never knew him to be wrong. He could level a piece, put the level on it and say, "Throw the level away--we don't need it." He was that good.

In recent years, when he has been unable to do the carpentry work he excelled at, I asked him how he developed such a keen eye for measurement. Typically modest, he shrugged and said, "I don't know. Just by doing it, I guess."

I recently have come to understand how it was done as I am nearing the end of my fence project (ran out of pickets today and have to wait a week for more to come) in which I have been converting our old security fence to a picket fence. (I will post an illustrated guide to doing this next week in case you'd like to know how it's done). I am not terribly skilled at this sort of thing. I have been working on it in fits and starts since last October, but I have about three more hours' work and it'll be done except for the gates, which I deferred until I better knew what I was doing. I have redone some sections four times to get them right. There are so many complexities to erecting a fence, much less a scalloped picket fence. And recently I am finding myself with some of my father's sense of measurement.

I mark off the distance between the pickets on the top stringer (horizontal piece that goes between the fence posts to which the pickets are attached). On the last section, which I marked today, I found the pickets did not come out evenly when I used a 1 3/4 inch spacing. To make them fit, I had to gain 2 and 1/2 inches over an eight-foot section of fence. Using higher math, I calculated that the pickets needed to be 1 7/8 inches apart. I started out using my rule to add an eighth of an inch to each width. After about three changes, I thought, I can look at it and mark an eighth of an inch. And I did. Then it occurred to me I was doing, in a small way, what my dad was able to do. Working with the fence had given me the practice to know how to "eyeball" a small measurement.

And so it is with writing. The experience we as writers gain when we read other writers or as we write enables us to have a sense of what is right for what we're writing. We might prune a descriptive section that is bogging down a story, or we might add some exposition to move the story along. We might not be able to think of the word we want and put a pale substitute so we can keep writing and come back later with the right word. And, just as my fence should, with any luck, be a work of beauty, so can our writings be beautiful, true and excellent. That is my wish for myself, and for all my colleague writers. And that's how it's done.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Technology and Society: Top Ten Movies

I see here that the British magazine, Sight & Sound, has come up with a "Critics' Top 10 Films of All Time" list

I used to fancy myself an auteur in college-took every film course I could, aspired to be a director (very funny, I know), wrote screenplays that never saw the light of day, even made a little three-minute film (in 16mm b&w) that was so bad and so unmemorable I forget what it was about.

Anyhow, I thought I knew something about film, particularly about film history. But this list--I have heard of half of the films listed. I do agree with their choices of the ones I've heard of or seen. See what you think:

10. 8 ½ Saw that in film class. Absolutely no idea what it was supposed to be about.

9. The Passion of Joan of Arc Heard of it. Think it's a silent film.

8. Man with a Movie Camera Duh.

7. The Searchers Yes, yes, yes. John Ford and John Wayne. Wow!

6. 2001: A Space Odyssey For a long time, my favorite film until it was replaced by Forrest Gump. Absolutely trailblazing in so many ways.

5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans Huh?

4. La R├Ęgle du jeu Think I saw this in French. No idea what it was about even after I saw it.

3. Tokyo Story Missed this one.

2. Citizen Kane Couldn't agree more! An absolutely seminal film! Was #1 on this list for years.

1. Vertigo What a combination of directing, acting and suspense! Great choice for #1!

So, what's in your wallet, I mean, on your list?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Friday--Food and Shopping

Continuing the story of our extended and activity-packed weekend, we got up early and went out to see the revamped Pottery in Lightfoot. It was a huge disappointment.

I should say that we have been visiting Williamsburg as a couple since we went there on our honeymoon in late 1973. There were barely any restaurants or shops; we spent our time touring Colonial Williamsburg since we are big history fans, and particularly local (Virginia) history. People had told us not to miss the Pottery and so we went. At that time it was a crazy hodgepodge of merchandise at low prices (kinda like Big Lots, if you're familiar with that emporium of a crazy hodgepodge of merchandise at low prices). Not anymore. They've remodeled it and I think seriously misjudged their demographic. The merchandise is predictable, of poor quality, and overpriced. (Other than that, it's great.) It's too bad.

One purchase we made while there in 1973 became part of our family lore--it was a Sabatier knife which is a chef's knife and we use ours daily. We don't call it "the Sabatier," although we very well could. We call if "the Williamsburg knife." and so it is and so it ever shall be. It is one good and sharp knife.

So, after about an hour of being disappointed at the Pottery, we took ourselves to more predictable places. Becky has evolved a shopping ritual to find the best merchandise at the best prices. She is a whiz at this. In the years since 1973, we have visited the town at least once a year, and more often when Amy was a student at William and Mary from 1995 until 1999 (the year of their tri-centennial...not too shabby) and the Chorale has sing a Christmas candlelight concert at Bruton Parish Church in the Colonial area for about ten years. Becky provides Chorale members and friends with her personal guide to shopping and eating in Williamsburg called "Beck's Best Bets in the 'Burg. I'll reproduce it below if you want to check out some of these sites yourself.

We went over to Merchants Square, close to the William and Mary Campus (and the intersection of Richmond Road and Jamestown Road, called aptly by the students "Confusion Corner. They also call Duke of Glouchester Street, the main drag in CW, D.o.G. Street). We ate lunch at a new place, which I think was called the DoG Street Pub. It was very good, if a little pricey. Then Becky was off to hit all her favorite shopping places while I made a circuit of the immediate area to collect some of our favorite local foodstuffs. That included a quart of pork barbeque from Pierce's Pitt Barbeque and a quart of Brunswick Stew from Old Chickahominy House Restaurant. Becky in the meantime ordered six ham and cheese sandwiches for our girls and ourselves from the Cheese Shop in Merchants Square. I continued my circuit by taking Route 199 ( relatively new sort of "beltway" for the area) back to our motel where I put the food in the refrigerator. Then I completed the circuit where I betook myself to the Barnes and Noble at Merchants Square where I caught up on email, Facebook and a little fiddling with my novel. We met up about three and went back to the motel.

The evening deserves a post of its own as I tell about a good meal and an inspirational speaker, probably next week.

Tomorrow: Top Ten Films of All Time, a list compiled by some Brits, for Technology Wednesday

And here are...


Merchant's Square - Duke of Gloucester St.
Bruton Parish Gift Shop - religious jewelry, plaques, gifts, Christmas ornaments
Barnes and Noble (W & M bookstore) - upstairs cafe, good CD selection, gifts, books, cards, everything W & M
Trellis Restaurant - moderate at lunch, expensive at dinner.  Good sandwiches & soups, "Death by  Chocolate" (1 serving serves 2-3 people)
Christmas Shop - ornaments, collectibles
Toymaker - neat toy store, adult collectibles in glass case to left of cash register, nesting dolls
Craft House - Byers Carolers (downstairs), moderate Williamsburg food & collectibles, expensive jewelry, china, needlepoint, beautiful home furnishings                     
Wythe Candy Shop - for your sweet tooth!  Great homemade fudge and almond clusters
King’s Treasure - souvenirs, good costume jewelry in case at back, linen towels, John Deere, brass
Quilts Unlimited (Henry St.) - beautiful handmade items
The Cheese Shop - WONDERFUL sandwiches (Smithfield Ham, French bread, their sauce), great cheeses (gouda), gourmet salads, wines downstairs, patio dining if it’s warm enough
Williamsburg Stores – connected with the Colonial capitol.  Beautiful home furnishings.
Restored historic area has several stores/shops - baskets, scented soaps, tri-cornered hats, plants

Prince George St. - one block behind Duke of Gloucester St.
Campus Shop - W & M sweats and tees
Aromas – good coffee, snacks, sandwiches

North Henry St. - Everything Williamsburg- true to its name - gifts for kids and adults
Celebrations – near Seasons Restaurant – has great collectibles, W’burg buildings and Byers carolers

Trellis and The Cheese Shop - see above    
Colonial Taverns in Restored area are great! Make reservations! Chownings (Brunswick Stew) in person.
Pierces Pitt Barbeque - don't miss it!  Take a pint or quart home (A+ onion rings). Go out Route 60 West, turn right on Airport Rd., left on Rochambeau to restaurant.  Near Exit 234 - left out of parking lot if headed to Manassas.  You can also get there by following Rochambeau for several miles from near Exit 238.
La Yaca - French - recommended to BV
Old Chickahominy House - breakfast & lunch/3 floors of gifts – Jamestown Rd.   Smithfield Ham on square biscuits, homemade pies, Brunswick stew.  You can call ahead for reservations.
Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Cracker Barrel - good! 

Prime Outlets - Seiko, Royal Doulton, Van Heusen, Nine West, 100+ shops
Outlet Mall - Dress Barn, Leggs/Lingerie, Totes, Vanity Fair, Dress Barn, The Bottom Line, a Shop with Team Sports apparel

New Town – a whole new section of the ‘Burg.  Martin’s (formerly Ukrop’s) Grocery store has a wonderful bakery (chocolate pie!) and great crab cakes.  Make it one of your last stops.  Partlett’s Cards and Gifts is also
in New Town.  Ask a local for directions.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Weekend Report

When I was teaching, after a while I had the students do a ten-minute "response" (i.e., "zero" draft writing) abut a particular topic that I put on the board and also put my take on the subject. I told them if they had a more pressing idea in mind, such as breaking up with their girl friend/boyfriend, they were welcome to write about that. This little exercise got them writing, helped them think and organize quickly and helped me understand what was going on in their lives. I also read every blessed one of them, commenting and giving them back the next class. Some students didn't appreciate my efforts to improve their writing. I didn't care. It was ten points off their grade (typically they had about 600 possible points during a quarter) if they didn't do it. Those who did it reported that they did well on the College Board Essay, which gave them 25 minutes to write on a given topic (no choices there).

I figure out of a 180-day school year, my students wrote 170 times a year. For me, that meant looking at, let's say, 17,000 responses during that time. I think I used this assignment for about 14 years, so that came to 238,000 writings. That's a pile of writing, but it was part of what I felt I (and they) needed to do.

All that is prologue to today's post topic. On Mondays, I had the students write about their weekend as a way of easing them into the school week. Some said they didn't do anything on the weekends: I allowed as how that was not really possible no matter how big a slug they happened to be. Even if they sat around and watched television while eating Doritos, that was doing something.

And so, here is the first part of my extended-weekend report. It was a busy one.

Thursday evening we took off for Williamsburg and the annual national convention of Pilots for Christ, a group of aviators and non-aviators who use their aircraft for mercy and medical missions. I participated on a mission with my friend Lee DeArmond who was the Worldwide President of PCI at the time. We flew to Fort Wayne Indiana to meet another PCI flight coming from Minneapolis with a young boy and his mother from Manassas who had been undergoing treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. We put the patient and his mother in the back seat and flew back to Manassas. It was during this flight I accumulated my one hour of pilot-in-command time. I also became airsick on the way there for the first time, but the less said about that, the better.

We got to Williamsburg about ten and checked in, sleeping the sleep of the just (and the tired.)

Tomorrow: Friday--Food, Shopping, Eating and a Touching Address

Friday, September 7, 2012

Poem of the Week--"Rainfall" by Guest Poet Beth Markley

Beth Markley is a Facebook friend who, with her husband, is stationed in Japan with the Navy. She posts a delightful variety of links and observations about her life there and about life in general. This "found" poem resulted from a series of posts that had, I thought, poetic qualities. Enjoy!


Steam is rising off the streets
It's that hot and it just rained.

The rain is really coming down now
And the temperature has dropped, too,
Of course.

I've got my doors open
Listening to the rain,
Watching the rain.

--Beth Markley

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Advice for Writers: Some Short Takes

Be Patient

If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don't just stick there scowling at the problem. But don't make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people's words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.

A Good Story Is A Dirty Secret

A good story is a dirty secret that we all share. It's what makes guilty pleasures so pleasurable, but it's also what makes them so guilty. A juicy tale reeks of crass commercialism and cheap thrills. We crave such entertainments, but we despise them. Plot makes perverts of us all.

Writing Is A Kind of Double Living

Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Technology and Society Wednesday: The Disappearance of Music

OK, at least I didn't title this "The Day the Music Died."

Here's what the list of "Nine Things the Will Disappear in Our Lifetime" floating around the internet says about the disappearance of music:

 This is one of the saddest parts of the change story. The music industry is dying a slow death. Not just because of illegal downloading. It's the lack of innovative new music being given a chance to get to the people who would like to hear it. Greed and corruption is the problem. The record labels and the radio conglomerates are simply self-destructing. Over 40% of the music purchased today is "catalogue items," meaning traditional music that the public is familiar with. Older established artists. This is also true on the live concert circuit. To explore this fascinating and disturbing topic further, check out the book, "Appetite for Self-Destruction" by Steve Knopper, and the video documentary, "Before the Music Dies."

Now, I think the writer of this paragraph is speaking of the music industry or business which is indeed on the ropes. It's a situation similar to publishers of books. They want to make money (oddly enough) and so they won't take a chance on an unproven author. Authors, as a result, are self-publishing and marketing their own books [by the way, the local Manassas/Prince William County writers' group I'm a part of, Write by the Rails, is sponsoring a panel on marketing your book. Here's a link to some more info on it: (scroll down to the July 26th entry)]. Somewhat the same thing has happened in the music trade in recent years. Artists are going directly to their audiences, if you will, by posting their music on the web. In some cases, they are on iTunes, which has pretty much killed off concept albums like Sergeant Pepper since people can pick and choose which songs they want to listen to or buy.

So, the music industry might be dying, but the kids have changed the game and in their hands, it's alive and well. An example of indie artist who have used the internet to great advantage are Nataly Dawn and Jack Conte They cover songs and also write originals as the group Pomplamoose. You might have heard Nataly's voice a couple of years ago when she provided the background music for a Toyota commercial and sang "Mr. Sandman." Here's a link to that song: and you're right: Nataly apparently never blinks.

Then, of course, there's live music. The shows at the Hylton Center on the Prince William campus of George Mason University are selling well, and there are all kinds of local choral and instrumental musical groups. So, the day the music died is not upon us yet. As American composer Joseph Martin wrote in one of his anthems, "Let music live!" And it does.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Customer Service

Actual phone conversations with customer service:

Me: The trash people didn’t put the lid back on my garbage can and the lid blew away.
Nice Lady from the Trash Company: Can you identify it?
Me: Well, it’s green and rectangular, about 18 inches by 24 inches and it fits on top of my trash can.
Nice Lady: I mean, did you have your name on it?
Me: No.  How about my initials?
Nice Lady: That would help.  Or your address.
Me: I didn’t have either.
Nice Lady: I’m sorry.  Without some sort of identification there’s not much we can do.
Me: Do you have any extra can lids lying around?
Nice Lady: No, we don’t pick those up.
Me: I thought your business was picking up.
Nice Lady: Ha ha.
Me: Maybe I can microchip it.
Nice Lady: That would work, too.

Automated Phone Company Voice: If you are calling to report a phone out of service, press or say “1.”
Me: “1.”
Automated Phone Company Voice: If you are calling from the phone that is not working, press or say “1.”
Automated Phone Company Voice: If you are calling from a phone other than the phone that is not working, press or say “2.”
Me: Duh.
Automated Phone Company Voice: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you.
Me: All right, “2” then.
Automated Phone Company Voice: I’m sorry.  I’m having trouble understanding you.  Let me transfer you to a customer service representative.
Me: Yay!

Representative from a big Online Company Whose Name Is the Same as a Major River in South America: So you didn’t order this merchandise?
Me: No, from the information you sent me, it was ordered under a different email address and sent to a different shipping address. Neither was mine.
Representative:  Are you sure you don’t use that email address or shipping address?
Me: Let me check. (One microsecond elapses.)  Yes, I’m sure.
Representative: Did you receive the merchandise?
Me: No.  And I didn’t order it, either.
Representative: It didn’t come to the place that you live.
Me: No, it went to some place where I don’t live.
Representative: I see.  So someone else ordered it.  Do you know the person who ordered it?

Health Insurance Agent: We didn’t pay this claim because it had the wrong date on it.
Me: OK.
Health Insurance Agent: You need to call the hospital and get them to correct the date.
Me: How about if I tell you the correct date?
Health Insurance Agent: I’m sorry, it has to be the hospital
Me: But I was there.
Health Insurance Agent: I’m sorry.
(A phone call later)
Hospital Representative: We sent the correct date to the insurance company.
Me: They say they got another date.
Hospital Representative: I don’t know how that happened.
Me: I don’t either.  Can you call them and tell them the correct date?
Hospital Representative: We already did.
Me: They say you didn’t.
Hospital Representative:
Me: Maybe we can settle this with a duel.
Hospital Representative: I think that’s illegal.
Me:  Too bad.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Passing It On

When we came back from vacation this summer (the infamous "undisclosed location" of an earlier post), a maple tree in the side yard had lost a rather large limb in a strong storm we had while we were elsewhere. The limb was hanging from the tree and not bothering anyone, but the neighbors wouldn't appreciate it as a semi-permanent landscape feature so I thought I should take it down, cut it up and put it out for yard waste pickup.

Several things mediated against the prompt removal of this limb. Primary was its location. It's located on a street that we normally don't come up when we go home. When I did pass by it, I'd think, "Oh yeah, gotta move that limb." That thought lasted about as long as it took me to drive the .1 of a block home and turn off the engine. "Out of sight, out of mind" was the operant watchword.

Second was the illness I acquired the last day of vacation. I felt like c-r-a-p and did so for about ten days after our return. I was in no shape to be harvesting timber, so it didn't get harvested.

Even if I had felt well, my lumbering skills are rather lacking. I don't own a chain saw because I would lop off a limb (my own human limb) with one. The best I can do is a utility saw with about a six-inch blade. Wouldn't do much on an eight inch diameter tree limb.

So, I did what I thought the sensible thing. I called someone to take out the offending limb. I called our nephew Jonathan, who owns his own yard care business and also does a little treework. He readily agreed to take the limb away when he came over to cut the grass. That afternoon when I came back from lunch, the grass had been trimmed and the limb carried away.

I think this event marks another rite de passage  for me, along with signing up for Medicare. I'm willing to let better qualified and equipped people do the things I don't want to do or can't do or shouldn't do. And that's a pretty good-sized realization.

As an English major, I am obliged to associate a line or two of verse with this experience, so here it is, from Tennyson's "The Passing of Arthur:"

The old order changeth, yielding place to new, 
And God fulfils himself in many ways, 
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.

And on this Labor Day, I want to salute all those like Jonathan who work so hard to make our society a better place. Keep up the good work!