Saturday, March 2, 2013

We're Changin' Lodgin'!

Those were, of course, the immortal words of Fagin in Dickens' Oliver Twist. Pictured above is Ron Moody, who did a wonderful job in the movie version of Oliver!, the musical version of the book. It is not a picture of me writing, although it could be.

Anyhow, the Biscuit City operation is moving to Word Press starting Monday. Look for us at If the browser dumps you out at On the Wings of Morning, my novel blog, you can read that too. Thanks for being a faithful reader and follower of Biscuit City. The dashboard shows 439 posts since May of 2011. If you've read them all, bless you, dear reader. If you haven't, bless you, too. Catch you on Word Press.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sign of Spring

Sign of Spring

On the way home from church last Sunday
I saw what I assumed was a father and son
Playing catch in the front yard.
The pro teams have been at it for a week
At spring training in inconsequential games
Unlike this father and son
Whose game is consequential
And makes me smile
A sure sign of spring.

--Dan Verner

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Color My World…or Not

It's a color spectrum wheel! There are too many of eyes!

Among the many things I don’t understand, including cricket and the International Date Line (Official Motto: Here to Confuse You), are colors.  Now, I  know what a color is and can even recognize some of them.  Like most guys, my color recognition skills are limited to about eight, which just happen to be the colors in the eight-crayon box. Anything beyond that is, well, beyond the pale. Or out of the box. I’m told that the human eye can distinguish about a million different colors.  Maybe I can, but I don’t know their names and I certainly can’t coordinate them. For example, what is fuschia? It sound like it should be a shade of pink and it is, but I had to look it up.  Or magenta.  Is that greenish? No, it looks about like fuschia.

I think, also like most guys, I didn’t care about colors to begin with except on cars. Then you have to have a cool color like silver or black.  None of those little pastel colored girly cars—you know which ones they are. So, with such limited experience, it’s no surprise that most guys do what I did until I got married—wear variations of the same color—blue, brown, and if you’re adventurous, green.  My wife tells me that she thought I was Mr. Monochromatic before we got married.  She had since fixed that by buying my clothes to make sure they match and also telling me what goes with what, usually with an askance look and the phrase, “Those two things don’t go together.”  Really, I’m grateful for the help. I am confident there are men who read GQ  and other magazines of mystery to me and know about fashion and color, but they’re not me.  Obviously.

Another major experience where color deficiency shows up comes when a room is to be painted.  Honestly, have you ever looked at the number of colors available?  And some of the names for them?  One of the rooms in our house is painted—and this is the truth—a color called “Cotton Tail.” (It’s sort of off-white.  I think.) It makes me dizzy just to go into the paint department at a store. It used to be that you took something with the color you want to match and the people at the paint store looked at it and said, “Uh huh,” and mixed up the exact color you wanted. Out of millions of possibilities!  How did they do this? I once met a guy who did this for Sherwin Williams for decades.  I asked him how he did it and he said, “I don’t know.  I just look at a color and I know what pigments will go into it. I think it’s a gift.” Now, of course, they have these amazing scanner computers where you can take in a sample the size of a quarter and they can match it from that!  Every time!  It’s a modern miracle of technology that deserves wider recognition.

Generally, painting at our house starts with a room that hasn’t been painted for a period long enough that the basic palette has changed. If you don’t know, there is a palette  of colors which decides colors for everything and it changes every so often. Some guy in Italy picks it out and everyone else just takes off with it.  You can see this phenomenon at work when you watch an old movie and think the film has faded or the dyes have gone funky.  Nope, those are the colors people actually wore back then.  Someone who is very good at this can date a picture to within a year by the color palette.  That’s kind of scary to me.

Anyhow, Becky decides a room needs to be painted and chooses a color, usually based on a pillow or the mat in a picture.  The rest of the color scheme flows from that.  I have consistently offered to paint any room if she picks the color.  This arrangement has led to some rooms that are colors I would not choose, like a pink living room, but I gave up the right to choose because, well, I can’t.

So, the  color is chosen, and I put the paint on.  I still enjoy painting. It’s relaxing and quiet and I can think about things like why there are so many colors in this world.

Monday, February 25, 2013

I Wish It Would Snow

I wish it would snow. And since I'm wishing, I wish for about three inches of soft, fluffy snow, enough to close schools and give workers unscheduled leave or the opportunity to telecommute. I don't want a blizzard such as New England endured recently, just some quiet, beautiful snow that we can watch and enjoy, bake cookies and have homemade soup, sit by the warmth of a Duraflame log in the fireplace and read a good book or just doze off.

We've had a number of "clippers" come through this year, leaving a dusting on the grass and a few days of "wintry mix" which just makes a mess or ices things up. I don't want that. I want some real snow.

I think I also want the chance to slow down, to think about where we've been and where we're going, to count our blessings and to make plans. It seems we've experienced vicariously on the news a surfeit of violence and suffering, of evil and cruelty, and while I would affirm that the vast majority of people are kind and good, it becomes easy to focus on the negative. A good snowfall would go a long way toward remedying that.

It's nearly March, and while we have had snow as late as May 1 around here (in 1962, to be exact), the time for snow this year is running out. 

I was minded of the words to an anthem by American composer Joseph Martin, "Canticle of Peace." They are:

Peace, fall like a gentle snow.
Fall fresh on the wounded heart.
Come blanket our ev’ry fear
And let the healing start.
Cover ev’ry anxious thought,
And all our fears erase.
May we know the tender touch of love’s redeeming grace.

(For more information on this anthem and its genesis, please visit For a performance please visit .)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Poem of the Week--The Quilters

The Quilters

I am painting a broad red stripe
On a wall in the church outside the room
Where the ladies quilting guild is meeting.
My work requires no skill, just
A can of paint, a tray and a roller.
It's a big dumb job.
As I roll on red enamel
I hear them murmuring as they work
Cooing like doves,
Most of their words indistinct
Although a few float out to the hall,
"Kidney," "grandchildren," and "visit."
I peek into the room to see them
Bent over quilt squares, embroidery, counted cross stitch
Faces relaxed as they talk and ply their skilled needles.
I do my dumb painting
While they are stitching their lives together.

--Dan Verner

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Kids Are All Right

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

(The crossing of their legs really gets to me. You know?) Does this statement sound about right about Kids These Days? Many of us would agree with the sentiments expressed therein.

But there’s a rub.

These words were written by Plato in the fifth century B.C. or found in an Egyptian tomb from the Second Dynasty or engraved on a potshard from the T’ang Dynasty in China. They’re not about today’s kids: they’re about yesterday’s youth. And they’re about as old school as they come. That’s an idea that should bring people up short.

It does, but it doesn’t bring them up short for long, because the older folk love to complain about the youngsters. They dress funny. They eat strange food. They wear their hair in bizarre ways. And their music… It’s so odd and so strange. You call that music? Not me—why back in my day music sounded like music, not like noise…

And they complain about the young folks’ work habits. They don’t work hard enough. They’re unreliable. They don’t know what they’re doing. You know the list.

My observation is that we have slackers in every generation (in my father’s time they were called “goldbricks.”) I taught with a fellow whose big accomplishment was getting to school at all. And it was said he did nothing at all when he got there.

And, to be sure, there are young people who don’t do squat. I once had a student whose avowed purpose in life was to “slack.’ And slack he did.  He worked after school in a bakery, a job that takes a concerted effort to slack off.. Some of my other students worked with him and said, yes, he was slacker and created work for everyone else with his dedication to slacking.

Which reminds me of The Three Rules of Work posited by the father of one my daughters’ friends. These are simple and would make a difference if we all went by them at work. They are:

1. Come to work.
2. Do work.
3. Don’t create work for others.
Now, it is my belief that the young people in our midst work hard and follow the Three Rules of Work. Most people I know, in fact, work far harder than they need to, often at a resultant cost.

Among the young, since the best “potism” is nepotism, I think of our two daughters as hard and exceptionally competent workers. Amy is a fourth grade school teacher who impresses me with her dedication, skill, knowledge and compassion. She is after thirteen years in the classroom head and shoulders as a teacher above what I was after 32 years. Alyssa is funny, smart, empathic and knowledgeable in her job as a H.R. specialist for a hugmongous corporation. If you want to know from H.R., check with Alyssa. And if you need an advocate, you want her on your side whether you have been abused by a indifferent faceless business or had a flight cancelled, you want her to step up and get these folks to do the right thing.

Then there are our nephews, Jonathan and Joshua. Jonathan is the hardest working fellow I know with an incredible sense of humor, and a kindness not often seen in young men. Josh for some time now had been the coolest person I know and has been all over his job since day one. They all make me so proud of them.

I asked Amy and Alyssa’s friends on Facebook to send me their occupations. Such a list indicates the sharpness of these young people and how hard they have to work: HRIS analyst,
quality assurance coordinator and trainer, realtor, financial representative, sales manager, associate pastor,  military social worker, accountant, career counselor, transportation research scientist, administrator, assistant director of music ministries, vice president of a company, neighborhood HR lady, teacher, veterinarian, lawyer, college professor, singer/cantor, cashier, executive assistant, kindergarten teacher's assistant, pediatric nurse, pediatric pharmacist, mother, single parent, soldier, Marine, and fire fighter.

 Keep it up, guys! You kids are all right!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Throwing Away a Trash Can

This situation reminds me of the old joke about the man who owned a boomerang. He became very upset one day and made an appointment with a psychiatrist. When they met, the man was obviously agitated. "Tell me what is troubling you," the psychiatrist said.
"It's my boomerang," the man answered.
"Your boomerang?"
"Yes, I keep trying to throw it away but it keeps coming back."

I told you it was an old joke. And also not a very good one. But I was thinking of it a couple of weeks ago when I tried to throw an old trash can away.

I put it out beside the main trash can since that was too full to put the discarded trash can into the main can.

The nice trash people didn't take it.

The next week, I did put it into the main trash can. They carefully left it by the curb.

I'm glad they're careful to not throw away something that might be useful. But I didn't want the trash can any more. It was dirty and ripped up. So, I did what I should have done in the first place, and put it into a trash bag. The trash people took it. End of story.

Life continues to have lessons to teach us, if only we look for them. I wish I had a nice aphorism to sum this up, but I don't. Sigh.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Poem of the Week--Teaching Irony Through Poetry

   Teaching Irony through Poetry
(for Mary G., who understood irony and so much else)

A Poem in the Form of a Dialogue between Teacher and Students

Teacher:  "Robert Frost's 'Mending Wall'
Has an excellent example of the use of irony.
Since you've all read it for homework
Where is the irony in the poem?"

Student: "In the title?"

T: "Good guess, but no. Keep trying."

S: "..."

T: "Any other ideas?"

S: "..."

T: "What about the neighbor's statement, 'Good fences make
Good neighbors?' "

S: "That's not ironic; it's true."

T: "Do you think Frost believed that it was true?"

S: "Can we ask him?"

T: "No; hes dead."

S: "Bummer."

T: "Yes, well, it happens to the best of us. Now, what if I told you that he believed the opposite?"

S: "That good fences make bad neighbors?"

T: "Yes, something like that."

S: "That's not true--our neighbor has a dog that digs up our flowers and pees all over the lawn. My parents have asked them to put up a good fence to keep the dog out. They won't, so aren't they bad neighbors?"

T: "Sounds like it."

S: "So: no fences make bad neighbors. Good fences would make good neighbors where there's an untrained dog involved."

T: "..."

S: "So what was irony again?"

T: "Let's try that another day. I've had too much fun today."

S: "You always say that. Do you mean it?"

T: "Oh, yes." With all my heart.

--Dan Verner

(Based on a number of dialogues with students over the years)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Month of Love and Presidents

For some time now, I have been curious about the exact designation of the federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday of February. It poses a usage conundrum: is it Presidents Day, or Presidents’ Day or President’s Day? If it is Presidents or Presidents’, then the holiday would honor all Presidents, probably on the theory that the office itself deserves honor and respect.  Not all Presidents were shining stars.  You can provide your own examples. Or it would honor Washington and Lincoln whose birthdays were in February and who used to each have a holiday to himself. If the designation is President’s Day, then it would be for one President.  Do we get to choose in that case? Is someone going to pick Martin van Buren?

So, in the public interest and to satisfy my own unnatural curiosity, I went to the horse’s mouth, or the OPM web site and found the answer is…none of the above.  The holiday is officially called Washington’s Birthday.  There’s no mention of other presidents at all or even Lincoln whose 200th birthday celebration was a few years ago.  There is a footnote to Washington’s Birthday,

This holiday is designated as "Washington’s Birthday" in section 6103(a) of title 5 of the United States Code, which is the law that specifies holidays for Federal employees. Though other institutions such as state and local governments and private businesses may use other names, it is our policy to always refer to holidays by the names designated in the law.

Apparently among advertisers and in the popular imagination the holiday became Presidents Day (supply your own punctuation: I can’t help you there), probably because of the fond memories many people have of a short month that used to have three distinct holidays.

When I was a lad in school, we celebrated three holidays in February, provided they fell on weekdays. I think the Monday holiday was established to insure that we got at least two days off that month. Every year for Washington’s Birthday we studied his life and did skits, mostly involving cardboard axes and cherry trees. I wish they had told us what we know now about Washington. He had quite a relationship with Sally Fairfax who ran Belvoir Plantation in her husband’s absence and taught the young and untutored Washington about social skills and intellectual matters. 

Martha Custis, a young widow, was apparently really attractive.  She was running eight plantations when she met Washington and there was quite a spark between them. And probably any grandparent could identify with Washington when his step-grandson failed to graduate from three colleges and essentially became what we would call today a slacker.  Nonetheless he built Arlington House as a tribute to his grandfather. Washington  was an amazing figure, one without whom we would probably be a member of the British Commonwealth, like Canada but without the mania for hockey.

Lincoln, too, was the subject of study and drama on his birthday.  Every seventh grader (part of elementary school when dinosaurs roamed the earth) had to memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  The most convincing orator dressed in costume and recited the speech before an assembly of the whole school.  I still remember large parts of the address. Lincoln was a phenomenal figure.

I wonder if the skits and shows that we did on these famous men were remnants of a custom before the days of mass media.  Kits and scripts were available that allowed local communities to recreate national events.  In the case of Washington’s funeral, there were only limited descriptions in newspapers and many people could not read anyhow. For a small price, communities purchased staging directions and scripts that allowed them to restage the funeral locally, with local people playing the parts of famous figures. I believe this custom continued through Lincoln’s death but faded from practice with the advent of mass distribution periodicals and photography.

The other holiday was of course Valentine’s Day which we celebrated enthusiastically with handmade Valentines and Valentine mailboxes in classrooms.  My daughter, who teaches fourth grade, tells me the custom continues.  A Valentine’s party was the occasion for one of the best comments by one of her students.  A girl looked around during the proceedings a few years ago and said, “There’s way too much love in this room.”

I do have to wonder, is it Valentine’s Day or Valentines’ Day or Valentines Day? (Somebody stop me!)  The first would imply only one Valentine (a great idea if you are married) or a remembrance of the bishop Valentine.  If it’s plural, that would account for the thousands of elementary classrooms across the nation where everyone gets a Valentine.  Our teachers inspected every one to make sure we didn’t write something like “You’re lucky you got this, you loser.” Such cruelty is possible among children, but by and large the holiday was a grand occasion for good wishes and a lot of candy.

So, whatever you call these holidays and however you celebrate them, I hope you enjoy them all!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Singing a Song (or Several of Them)

This is not the Voices United Choir, but part of the audience at the Hylton Performing Arts Center during one of our Chorale concerts. I'm not sure why the lights are on since they're off during the concert. We can't see the audience, but we can hear them breathing.

This past Saturday, we had our first rehearsal for Voices United 2013, a concert sponsored in recent years by the Manassas Chorale, which I am a part of.

Voices United brings singers from all over the area from a variety of backgrounds to a two-day workshop with a guest composer director who works on the anthems with the group and then directs them in the concert Saturday evening. American composer Joseph Martin was our director last year; this year, we have Pepper Choplin, an outstanding composer and musician with over 2000 anthems to his credit.

The VU 2013 Choir will be performing "One Voice" by Mark Hayes (a former VU director as well);"For the Beauty of the Earth" (arranged by English composer John Rutter, perhaps the premier composer in English today. Becky and I met him this summer and he is both charming and humorous. And musical.); "I'm Going Home," a Sacred Harp song arranged by Choplin; "River in Judea," a composed spiritual by Linda Marcus and Jack Feldman and arranged by John Leavitt; and "Create in Me" by local musician and composer Kimberley Hill, who will be singing in the choir. (This is Kim's third published anthem, and we are very proud of her.)

The Voices United Concert takes place Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 7:30 PM at the Hylton Performing Arts Center on the Prince William Campus of George Mason University. Check the Chorale's website at for more information. I hope you'll come and I think you'll enjoy the concert!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Friday Poem of the Week--A Lesson on Metaphor

A hunka hunka burning...sun...
A Lesson on Metaphor

On a bright spring Friday, after lunch,
I told a sleepy class,
"This is an example of metaphor:
'The evening sun is a dying ember.'
Something is being compared to something else
Essentially unlike it. Now give me another example."

"The sun is a star," one boy ventured.

A girl raised her hand, "The sun is a giant ball of

Another boy said, "The sun is the sun."

"No," I said. "Those are definitions, not metaphors.
They're not comparing two essentially unlike things."

"But," the first boy insisted, "They're true."

"Unquestionably, they're true. They're just not

"Are metaphors true?" asked the girl.

The bell rang and they ran off before I could answer.
I had no answer because metaphors are and are not
It depends.

The children ran off blinking in the spring sun.

Maybe I should have taught science
And not poetry.

In science, the sun is
A star
A giant ball of gas
A sun
And not
A dying ember.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Nacho the Medical Cat

Nacho the Medical Cat Off Duty in a D-28 Case

Nacho the Cat, described accurately by her vet as a "dog in a cat suit" has been with us since 2002 or 3, when Alyssa picked her out from the animal shelter. She has taken a liking to me (so she's "my" cat) and is a terrific companion. However during these years we have noticed that Nacho also has medical training.

When Becky broke her hip a number of years ago, while she was healing, Nacho came and got very close to the healing hip. As Becky underwent physical therapy and improved, Nacho moved to the bottom of the bed and then to a chair across the room and finally to the entrance of the room. She seemed to sense the progress of Becky's healing.

We've since noticed this phenomenon on other occasions. I'm told by people who study cats that they see us as large cats who provide them food and protection. It makes sense that when they sense that their "big cat leader" is injured that they do what they can to protect their protector.

So, there's another role for cats: they're cute, furry, entertaining, sure, but you can add body guard and healer to that list as well.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Good Distances Make Good Neighbors

Image from a 1908 blizzard in Minnesota. For illustrative purposes.
All this is with apologies to Robert Frost, of course, who did not believe that "good fences make good neighbors" and would be appalled to hear that line quoted as evidence that we ought to keep barriers up between ourselves. Tone is so important!

OK, enough of that. I recently The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin (more information on this book is available at ) and found it a striking and appalling account of a January, 1888 storm that struck the Great Plains unexpectedly and killed over 200 people, many of them children. The book tells about some of the children, wandering lost in the whiteout conditions of the blizzard, stumbled across houses of people unknown to them. The people took them in and saved their lives.

I got to thinking that these pioneers lived miles apart and yet they could find help or rest at any house they came across. It was a matter of hospitality but also a matter of survival. If you're lost in such a situation, help would be where you would find it--and you would find it at any house.

I couldn't help contrasting this community with the ones we live in. We are perhaps 100 feet from a neighboring house, and yet, if someone pounded on a door in this community seeking help or assistance, would they receive it? I know, our times are different; we must be careful; and there are other means of assistance available to us. (This post had its origin in an idle thought I had that if the children in the blizzard had had cell phones, so many of them would not have perished. Silly idea, I know.)

So, perhaps there is something about being close to each other physically that deteriorates a sense of community. So many people around...someone else will take care of the needs.

Or will they?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Friday Poem of the Week--Meditation on John Donne

Mediation on John Donne

This past week a long-time church member
Died suddenly, and while I did not know him well
I was shocked and saddened by his passing.
People at the church were as well, many of whom
Knew him much better than I did
And although we are "believers all who bear the name
Of Christ the living Lord" and live in that hope,
We still grieve
For a life cut short
For a family left behind
For friends who now have one less friend
And for ourselves.

And yet we rejoice
For a life well-lived
For family and friends whose lives were touched
For the world made a better place
By a life and presence.

And still we have hope
Hope as certain as a promise
As welcome as a warm day in winter
As real as tomorrow's sunrise

We grieve and
We rejoice and
We have hope.

--Dan Verner

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Technology Wednesday--Technology that Consistently Works Well

We haven't had a Technology Wednesday for a while, and I just checked and technology is still with us, so why not?

I think I thought of writing about technology since I've been, uh, engaged in trying to get my scanner to work this week.

I have one of those all-in-one printer/scanner/copier/fax machines, and to this point, it has worked well. I especially like the scanner function because I can scan funny cat pictures and send them to people I know. Yes, I know there are other ways to do that. I just like using the scanner.

But then I "upgraded" to Windows 8 a few weeks ago. Dear Microsoft: Windows 8 is pretty to look at, but where is everything? Where's my Start button? I can't find programs! I can't find files! I promise I won't even make fun of your putting the "Stop" function on the "Start" icon. Just put it back, please!

I feel better now. Anyhow, my all-in-one printer/scanner/copier/fax machine wouldn't work all of sudden, and I surmised its printer driver needed an upgrade. I hied myself off to the Brother support site to see what I could find there and after an exhaustive search among posts and replies on the help pages, found that the LAN connection I was using with the printer didn't support scanning. I would have to switch the machine over to a USB connection. Once I found a twelve foot USB cable. Which I did after a few days, hooked it up and scanned away. Except the automatic data feeder (ADF) didn't work with the scanner. I suppose I should be happy it works at all.

Clearly printers and even computers are not high on the list of consistently reliable technology. I became so frustrated with one printer (long since sent to the electronic recycling bin) that I literally wanted to throw it through a closed window into the yard two stories below. I didn't, but the impulse was there.

I got to wondering, what is a consistently reliable technology? I've written enough for this time, so I'll save that topic for another time. In the meanwhile, what are your nominees for most consistently reliable technology? (I know, it depends on the meaning of "technology." Yup, it does.)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Familiar--and Familial--Phrases

Careful. These animals might have the epizootic.
I'm not sure that our family is unusual in that we have certain code phrases from our shared experience that we make use of in certain situations. That's as clear as the tax code, so I'll try to explain. Here are some examples (the ones I can make public, anyhow):

The term epizootic for a human illness. Becky's mother used this before we were married. She wasn't feeling well, and when Becky asked her what she had she replied, "I guess I got the epizootic." I thought initially she had made the term up or that it was a bit of local dialect. I looked it up, and it's a word, meaning "disease of animals." This use of the word struck me as incredibly clever and extremely funny, so much so that the mere mention of the term sent me into gales of laughter for months afterward. So watch out for the epizootic: you don't want to get it!

Another code phrase came from Becky's grandmother long before I met Becky. The family was watching television and Kate Smith was singing. Becky's grandmother came in, quickly looked at the set and exclaimed, "That woman's big enough to be Kate Smith." She was because it was Kate Smith (just wanted to point that out). This phrase is used when something is self-evidently evident. One of us might say, seeing someone across a parking lot unexpectedly, "That looks like Tom Wilson." If it is Tom Wilson, the other will reply, "And that woman's big enough to be Kate Smith." (Trust me, this makes sense in context.)

The last phrase I wanted to mention (there are many, but they're too embarrassing to put here) has to do with a lady at the church (who has since passed on) who fixed meals for functions at the church. She had a heavy hand with the sugar scoop, so her sweet iced tea came out sweet. I'll call her Grace Jenkins, which was not her real name, but it will help to make the point. Any overly sweet tea we call "Grace Jenkins tea." And we know what we mean.

Maybe you have some sayings or words in your family. If you do, send them along in a comment. I'd love to publish some of them in a future post.

Bonus terms: Becky is an excellent cook, and has only had a couple of disasters in the 39 years we've been married. One time, the oven stuck and the meatloaf came out looking like a big charcoal briquette. Becky called it "forest fire meatloaf," and the term has stuck to any overdone item. There were also microwave pork chops, a code term for any underdone food, from our attempt to fix pork chops in the microwave. They came up so underdone I thought I could hear them squealing. We would have been better off baking them in the Easy Bake Oven with its light bulb heat source. (See last week's blog about this sterling toy.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cat Fishing

Bob and Dick were excited about the big catfish their friend Steve caught using only his hands, but sorry that it  swallowed him in the process.

Now, to a boy from Georgia, cat fishing used to mean going out to the river where the big ones lie in wait with your pole and can of worms and trying to catch one of those big whiskered fish to take home to fry up and eat. Not that I actually ever did this. My fishing expeditions were few and far between, and when I did manage to catch something, it was usually a perch or bluegill. There was more to eat off a jumbo shrimp.

I've also seen shows about guys with some skill and less sense who catch catfish by hand. This process is called noodling, and it involves sticking one's arm and hand into an underwater hole where the catfish hangs out. When the fist tried to escape, it usually clamps onto the noodler's hand, who quickly grabs the cat by a gill and hauls it out of the water. That is, if a snapping turtle or poisonous snake is not living in the hole formerly occupied by the catfish. Other outcomes follow from this scenario, including but not limited to the loss of fingers and death. I think I had an uncle who noodled for catfish, though I'm not sure. We called him "Seven-Finger Bob" after he disturbed a snapping turtle. (I made that up because deception is related to the theme of this post. Trust me.)

But I'm not here to talk about that kind of cat fishing. I found out just the other day about another kind which involves the mighty river of the internet. And deception. Lots of deception. According to the online Urban Dictionary (, a "catfish" is "someone who pretends to be someone they're not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances." "To catfish" is to fool someone using the internet by creating a false identity.

All this came up after the revelation that Notre Dame football player Manti T'eo was hoodwinked into thinking that a non-existent young woman was his girlfriend. It's more complicated than it sounds (for more of the story, go to ), so it's about more than a delusional young man creating an ideal relationship. Officials at Notre Dame believe he was the victim of a cruel hoax, and I suppose there are some things to be learned from this.

One is that online relationships are not real relationships. I've had the experience of "getting to know" people in our local writers' group on Facebook, but I've always wanted to meet them in person, although months might elapse before we do so. A second learning is, not everything on the internet is true. (Notice the number of times I steered readers to the web in this post. Uh, yeah, I did.) We still have to check out what appears to be true. When I was teaching, we told students to not believe everything they read. That advice still holds true, perhaps even more today. And, third, the human heart, while capable of much that is good--love, respect, caring, sacrifice--also may be a place of darkness.

Be careful out there. Every fish swimming in the sea ain't necessarily a cat fish.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Day of Service

Last Saturday was the National Day of Service (more information at I know Biscuit City readers are involved in all kinds of service year 'round, and I salute you for that. I'd like to suggest one way local folks in the Manassas/Prince William area can be of service to some of our older residents. These people by and large don't "do computers," and with the recent loss of the News and Messenger print edition, I've heard a number of them say they have no way of keeping up with recent news, including deaths and obituaries. (Prince William Today comes out once a week)

So, my suggestion for service is this: if you know someone who can't or doesn't go online for news, give them a call or, even better, a visit, and take a few minutes to catch them up on the local news, not just the recent deaths. I know they will appreciate it and I believe you will enjoy making a difference in their day.

Here's the website for local news coverage:

Friday, January 18, 2013

Poem of the Week-- Correspondence with My Brother

Correspondence with My Brother

Amy is in the dining room
Writing a letter to a friend
Dark hair falling around the paper.
She does not move
Except for her hand
While I range between
Refrigerator and stove and table
In the kitchen
Preparing dinner.

She is composing her life.

I am glad, Ron, that I have you to write to
Since we don't see each other enough
And don't have much of a chance to talk.
Our lives are so busy and
Without someone to write to
I am not myself.
To be myself
I thought I needed to read
But this summer I read nothing
And it made no difference
But I do need to write
And I need to write to you.

Amy is in the dining room
Writing to her friend.

I am in the kitchen
Washing potatoes and
Writing this in my head
To you.

We are composing our lives.

--Dan Verner

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Story of the Easy Bake Oven (A Cake Tale)

"Light bulb not included." Should have been a clue.
Cindy Brookshire, Write by the Rails guru and a wonderful writer who works in all sorts of genres  wrote this recently: We all have a cake story. Lianne Best wrote about her chocolate pound cake gone lopsided in a “Mom on the Run” column.  Now there’s a “Bake Off” challenge on the Write by the Rails website to see how many cake stories we can raise.

As I thought about this passage, I realized that even I have a cake story. And I don't bake cakes. Well, once. So here's the story. I call it “The Great Easy Bake Oven Cake Fiasco.” 

Let me preface this tale by saying that women seem to do most of the cake baking in this world, although many bakers are men. Alyssa's betrothed (she hates the word "fiancé) Chris B. (to distinguish him from Amy's bf, Chris M.), is a wonderful baker. He made little covered wagon cupcakes complete with little animal cracker oxen pulling them for Alyssa's Oregon Trail-themed birthday party last year. Believe me, Chris B. can bake a cake for me any time.

Which is not to say that I am completely lost in a kitchen. I am a fair-to-middling cook and would likely not sicken most of the people I feed. I cook for ordinary situations. When it comes to the big celebrations though--Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs--and there is a family meal where everyone brings a dish, I make the iced tea (if it's chez nous--it's easier that way). The real cooks in the family handle the main and side dishes. I know my place in the food chain. (Pun intended.)

But baking, as I have said, not so much. My ineptitude was confirmed when one of the girls received an Easy Bake Oven for a present. The commercials make it look easy to produce delicious, actual edible cakes and cupcakes in the Oven. Here's a commercial from that era. It speaks with forked tongue. (Note that the name of the product was actually the Tasty Bake Oven. I think I have suppressed that bit of information.)

So, we were set to have some father-daughter baking fun with the new oven. The cake mix came in cute little boxes, like the real cake mixes, only smaller. We mixed it up and put it in the cute little cake pans and put the cute little cake pan in the cute little oven and plugged it in and waiting to taste the results of our labors. And waited. And waited.

"Baking time" was supposed to be two minutes. After two minutes, the alleged cake was still a glutinous mass. And after five minutes. And ten minutes. It simply wouldn't turn into a cake.

The girls were disappointed. So was I. And after some thought, I ascertained the problem: the source of heat for the oven was a 60-watt light bulb. No wonder it wouldn't bake. It was about like holding the cake pan over a living room lamp and expecting it to bake.

Together, we worked out that we could use full size cake mix boxes and the oven in the kitchen to bake cakes. That worked well, but I think the emotional trauma of the Easy Bake experience put me off baking cakes forever. No doubt with proper treatment I could turn into a Cake Boss. But it's too late for me now.

I know that other people have had spectacular success baking over a light bulb. I've even seen accounts of people fixing full Thanksgiving meals with an Easy Bake. (Didn't say how long it took--days, probably.) But in our family, sadly, Easy Bake has become a code term for Never Baked or Half Baked or Misrepresentation in Advertising. I should have taken the thing back. Maybe it was defective. In truth, I think I was too embarrassed to admit that I actually thought you could cook a cake, even a small one, over an incandescent bulb. Maybe our magic was not strong enough. Either that or we needed 75 watts of blazing oven power. Yeah...that's it. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Well Vetted

We have always had at least one cat in the house since we set up housekeeping nearly 40 years ago, and most of the time, two felines. Yep, we're cat people, and most of that time we have taken our critters to Prince William Animal Hospital on Nokesville Road south of Manassas. The care for our pets has been outstanding. The love of the whole staff for animals is evident, and they have gotten us through injuries, infections, diabetes, and the death of at least a couple of our charges.

So, here's to you, Drs. Brown, Verloop, Nostrand, and Scher (and Medici, who is no longer with the practice), vet techs Xander, Philip, and others whose names I don't know; receptionists Carleigh, Rachel and  Tonya (and others again whose names I don't know). All of you are top notch in our book!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Poem of the Week--Gliding


Looking for a new Christmas tree
After Christmas
I saw a plumber at Home Depot
Returning a shopping cart from his truck
In an easy fluid motion
Across the parking lot
As he returned the cart.

And I thought, how very like

A Shakespearean actor "taking the stage"
A ballerina moving into place under the lights
A NFL wide receiver gliding into the end zone

And I thought,

They were all


And, my heart lightened
By an unexpected moment of grace,
As I walked to my car,
I felt as if I too were


--Dan Verner

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Technology Wednesday--The Paper Chase

Our recycling bin looks like this except for the aqua top. Many of the bins I found pictures of were blue. What's with that? I've never seen a blue recycling bin. And it wouldn't go with our house, which is sort of cream-colored.
For just a couple of people, Becky and I generate a lot of paper at home. I suppose that's to be somewhat expected since I do a lot of writing and she is involved with a lot of music. Both of these in some guise require paper. (Or at least they do now.)  I do write on a word processor, and Biscuit City is produced online (news flash), but I print out drafts for revision. I can see errors and problems on a hard copy more readily than on a screen. It's a holdover from the days when I hand wrote everything, or typed it.  As for music, we have the music for the Manassas Chorale (which Becky directs) shipped to our house, so we have a lot of boxes. We also order a fair amount online, which means more boxes. Then there's the regular mail, fully half of which is, uh, direct marketing.

We have a recycling bin, which holds about two bushels of stuff. It used to live in the kitchen, but has gotten torn up thorough heavy use. It now lives on the porch and we have a nice recycling bag. I empty both bin and bag into the 55-gallon wheeled recycling bin that the City of Manassas provides, and we more than fill it up each week before it's picked up with the trash on Thursdays. And this is from two people.

A "paperless office" was predicted as early as 1975. Instead of paper output lessening, it has increased siunce then because of the ease of producing documents. Today, the average office worker produces two pounds of paper a day. I think we're right up there with them on that.

Of course we use computers. I first used them at school in 1985, but I still use a lot of paper. Part of it is that I realize that digital entities have a way of disappearing, so I don't trust them entirely. I keep a calendar on my i-Phone, but back it up with a paper copy. My novel is saved on a hard drive, a thumb drive and also on a cloud (or my castle on a cloud, I'm not sure which), but I still run a hard copy every once in a while. I hope it wouldn't come to typing it all over again, although that might improve the manuscript.

What's your experience with paper? Are you using more or less? Are you overwhelmed by great piles of it as we are? Any ideas on how to control it are welcome--I'll be glad to take a page out of your long as I don't have to recycle it.

Monday, January 7, 2013

We’re Baaack…with Some Changes

Well, all right, the staff of Biscuit City has returned to work more or less intact from their two weeks off. We hope everyone had a nice break, a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year’s celebration (within bounds—Molly Bolt is not pleased she had to dip into petty cash to wire to spring Nancy and Harrison out of the New Orleans jail, nor was she impressed at being called at 4 AM New Year’s Day to be asked to do so. But all’s well that ended well).

So, about the changes (other than to the personnel handbook): loyal readers and followers of Biscuit City should know that we’ll be changing from a weekdaily publishing schedule to a thrice weekly publication. The staff has some other irons in the fire and also writing projects, including a novel in revision, an online column, and later on in the year (perhaps), a second edition of Write by the Rails’ anthology, New Departures (available from WBTR members and also on The first magazine sold over 300 copies, so we’ll see if we want to go for a second one.

Look for BC on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. And to all of you, the happiest and most prosperous of New Years!