Monthly Archives: July 2011

Bonus Travel Post

I heard from several people with excellent ideas to “must see” places in the D.C. area. Here they are–thanks, Alyssa, Nick, Mary Mac and J.C.!

Alyssa’s additions: 

1) Bluemont Vineyard–on a clear day you can see the Washington Monument, on an cloudy day you can just drink.
2) The Lincoln Memorial and Korean War Memorial late at night. Really cool looking, and a much different vibe than during the day.
3) Middleburg. Good food and you can pretend to be fancy. If it was good enough for Jackie O, it is good enough for me.
4) Great Falls and/or Prince William Forest Park. Good hiking!

Nick Pegram: 

Since you mentioned Williamsburg, I would suggest the Virginia State Capitol building in Richmond. I have not been since they opened the new visitors center, but it is a beautiful Jefferson inspired building.

Mary and J. C. McElveen:

The Jefferson Hotel and Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, Monticello (of course!–DV), Congressional Cemetery in D.C.

Excellent additions, blog people.  Keep them coming!


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My Top Ten List of Places to Visit in the D.C. Area

Maybe it’s the influence of having gone more places this summer than we usually do, but I have been thinking about the top ten places I would take a visitor to the area. (My definition of the D.C. area is rather far-ranging, as you will see.) We used top ten lists for Paris and Heidelberg when we were there since we had limited time. We don’t have the opportunity to show people around generally since anyone who visits from out of town has lived around here before. Anyhow, to the list:

1. The U.S Capitol.  I haven’t been to the new visitors’ center yet, but I think seeing this iconic structure should be high on anyone’s list. We’ll disregard the present sorry state of government and recognize the world’s greatest legislative body.

2. The White House.  So much history here in the People’s House. Sure, you have to go through your congressperson to arrange a tour, but it’s worth the trouble.

3. The various Smithsonian Museums and Galleries. I know, I’m fudging by including a bunch of museums under one category. My favorite is the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum.  An amazing collection, even for people who don’t care for things aerospatial. And they’re all free…or at least paid for by tax dollars.  Now, you do have to pay to park at Udvar-Hazy.  Load your car up with a bunch of friends and split the cost.

4. Arlington Cemetery.  A beautiful and solemn place.  The Tomb of the Unknowns and the changing of the guard are essentials.  Also, JFK’s grave and the eternal flame.

5. Colonial Williamsburg. A bit far afield, I know, but absolutely unique as a restoration of a seventeenth-century city. Warning: swarmed by hordes of middle schoolers during the school year.

6. Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Almost heaven. (I know, most people, including the state of West Virginia, think the song is about West Virginia. The lyrics read, “Almost heaven, west Virginia…” but  Bill Danoff, one of the lyricists, said the song is about the western part of Virginia. We can also sing “Shenandoah,” which should be the state song although it was originally a sea chantey.) Ineffably beautiful, especially with the colors in the fall.

7. Library of Congress. Nothing like it in the world.  Go see it.

 8. Mount Vernon.  Terrific new visitors’ center with museums, displays and videos, including snow falling from the ceiling during a segment on Valley Forge. Thank you, Mt. Vernon Ladies’ Association, for preserving this important estate.  While you’re there, have a meal at the Mount Vernon Inn located on the property. They don’t take reservations for lunch, so be prepared to wait, but they do for dinner.

9. A Potomac Cruise.  There are a number available and it’s a great way to have a different perspective on the city. Some include meals.

10. Gravelly Point in Virginia.  Here you can park and watch the airplanes take off and land from National Airport.  An odd choice, but a unique one, I think.

There you have it!  I left out a number of great sites, and I’d be interested in what you would add to this list.  Come on down!

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(You may gently hum the only melody that Cats has while you read this.)  If you are of a certain age as I am, you know that your memory is slipping away on little cat feet.  Many of us have had the experience of going into a room or going to another floor and not remembering why we went there.  I can’t remember where I put my glasses down or my cell phone or a book I was reading or almost any other object I can think of. In fact, most of my waking hours are spent using techniques to help me remember something.  I write things down (if a shopping list exceeds three items I have to write them down or I will forget at least one thing). If something needs to go somewhere, I put it by the front door so I stumble over it on the way out–but I’ll remember it.

A few weeks ago, Becky had part of a Potbelly sandwich left over from lunch, so I put it in the refrigerator when I got home.  I think.  When we went to take it out to eat it, it wasn’t there.  We couldn’t find it in the car, on top of the refrigerator, at Becky’s office, anywhere.  Now I think I might have eaten it and forgotten I did so.  It’s just pitiful.

Just yesterday, we went looking for a big frame made out of plastic pipe that the Chorale hung signs on in front of the church when we did our concerts there.  The preschool at our church wanted to use it for their registration sign, so I looked in the closet where we had stored it and it wasn’t there.  The preschool director and I looked through every closet we could think of but no frame.  We called people who might have seen it, but no one had.  Finally, I said that if we couldn’t find it I would make another one. I was on the original committee that formed the preschool in 1973 and I like to do what I can to support it.

As I was driving away from the church, I looked over at the sign for a school that will start in the other building in the fall.  It hung between two vertical timbers in the ground, but there was something familiar about it–a white pipe frame.  It was the one we had been looking for.  We had let the new school use it and totally forgotten about it.

Since the frame was in use, I had to make another one, which was all right. I enjoy doing things like that, as long as I can remember how to.

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What Works Well (Or At Least Better Than It Used To)

On the radio the other day I heard a fire chief talking about the difference smoke detectors have made in deaths by fire in this country.  Before their widespread use the death toll stood at about 30,000 (about 1% of the current population).  With the number in place now,that number has dropped to 3,000 annually (or .1% of the population). I think this is an incredible change, even though one death by fire is too many.  With more detectors in place, the death toll would drop to 1500 deaths a year. (Note to self: continue to replace batteries in detectors every six months.)

These statistics got me to thinking about what works well in our society or has improved over the years. At the top of the list would have to be seat belts and air bags.  Yet I can remember people in particular resisting the use of belts, saying they would prefer to be thrown from the car in the event of an accident. Uh, don’t think so. A federal study noted that “Studies of accident outcomes suggest that fatality rates among car occupants are reduced by between 30 and 50 per cent if seat belts are worn. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that death risks for a driver wearing a lap-shoulder seat belt are reducing by 48 per cent. The same study indicated that in 2007, an estimated 15 147 lives were saved by seat belts in the United States and that, if seat belt use were increased to 100 per cent an additional 5024 lives would have been saved.[]”  Presently about 85% of drivers use seat belts. With their use, fatalities from car accidents were 37,000 in 2008.  I can remember when there were 50,000 deaths per year with fewer miles being driven.  Seat belts (and air bags) work.

Zippers are something else that has improved over the years and work well now.  If you are of a certain age, you probably remember the difficulty of starting a zipper or worse yet, one getting stuck before it reached the end of its track. Sometimes I think I spent half my life in elementary school fooling with stuck zippers.  I usually would end up pulling my coat over my head and getting stuck because the opening wasn’t quite big enough. I never learned from this and so I am grateful that zippers almost never stick any more.  Thank you, Talon Company, for this improvement.

As irritating as cell phones can be, they certainly are useful.  If we had teenagers now, I know I would feel a lot better about their safety and whereabouts knowing they had a way to call. It seems everyone has one, and if we’d just learn where and when to use them, what a wonderful world it would be.  Actually, telephones in general have improved vastly. Many of you can probably remember when a long distance call had to be set up with an operator, at a prohibitively high cost. Now we can call around the world for not very much. When we went to Europe, I notified our carrier and that was it.  The phone worked in Germany and France. While I didn’t use it for calls (fairly expensive) I did use it to text Amy who was holding down the fort at home. (That’s an odd expression, isn’t it?  How do you hold down a fort? It holds itself down, thanks to gravity.)

I also think pharmacies are amazing.  Whatever the doctor prescribes, the pharmacy has it or if they don’t, they can get it the next day. I asked Larry Morrison of Manassas Pharmacy how he kept what was called for is stock.  He said he is familiar with what the doctors in the area prescribe and can order accordingly. Still pretty cool.

Then there’s next-day shipping.  Through a system of airline connections, merchants can have goods delivered to your house the next day or the day after.  Books have been written about Fed Ex and UPS, but suffice it to say the system works and works well. Then there’s my favorite e-tailer,  What an amazing “store” that is. And for a relatively small yearly fee, I can have “free” second day delivery.  Wow!

My last item that works well is pizza places. Order up a pizza, go get it or have it delivered and you’re experiencing gastronomic delight in a matter of minutes.  I  know, they’re not like Momma made, but my momma wasn’t Italian anyhow.

These are my nominees for things that work well.  It makes me happy just thinking about them.  I would bet you can come up with a list of your own.

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A Sad, Sad Situation

Well, it has happened again.

It happened this past weekend just like it did in Oklahoma City, in the hands of innocent people opening packages, like it happened at Virginia Tech, at Fort Hood, in a shopping center near Tucson.  It happened and it keeps on happening.

A deranged young man, often with an extreme political agenda, decides that to achieve his twisted ends he needs to kill some innocent people. In Norway this past weekend, there was a bomb and people died.  There was shooting at a retreat center for young people on an island for an hour and a half and dozens upon dozens of youths died. It’s sad when anyone dies a sudden, violent and meaningless death, but even sadder, I think, when they are young people with so much ahead of them. And that future is taken from them in an instant.

The pictures of Norwegians in deep mourning are heart-rending. We have seen images like these before, but that doesn’t make this grief observed any easier. Our thoughts, hearts and prayers go out to those who are suffering so.

Norway has strict gun control measures but somehow this sick individual got around them. While I am not a fan of guns–I am very uncomfortable with the idea that in Virginia people can carry guns into public places–I don’t think we are going to solve the conflict between those claiming their right to own and carry weapons and those wishing to limit the ownership and use of guns.  It’s just one of those insoluble issues.

I would have to say that strict controls didn’t help in this case. And I’m not sure what would stop future tragedies of this sort. Quick-response teams that can control violence and limit casualties? Enhanced mental health services to detect and treat the angry and frustrated among us? Our individual awareness of people who are unstable or troubled and our reaching out to them?  Perhaps a combination of these measures is needed.  I am sick at heart with these events and I don’t want them to happen again.  I hope and pray that they don’t, that we never have to see again the stricken faces and piles of flowers at makeshift memorials.  Enough is enough.

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How Hot Is It?

We have had quite a spell of hot weather recently, although today was better (“only” in the 90’s) with more relief to come.  The really hot weather was incredibly oppressive, with air temperatures over 100 and heat indexes of 110 or more.  Now that’s hot.

I thought of a song the kids used to sing called “How Hot Is It?” I don’t have a sound file for it, but here are the words.  You can make up your own fast country-style melody.

      (More or less shouted) How hot is it?
      Well, it’s so hot the snakes have all got blisters,
       It’s so hot ny clothes are wringing wet,
       It’s so hot the polar bears are reeling,
       All we do is sit and watch rocks sweat.

(This immortal bit of verse also has stanzas on “How dry is it?” “How cold is it?” and “How wet is it?” However, I’m here to talk about the heat.)

I also have a few heat jokes:

You know it’s hot when
Birds need potholders to pull worms out of the ground
Farmers feed their hens crushed ice so they won’t lay hard-boiled eggs
You need a spatula to change your clothing.
You need a spatula to change your clothing.
A scalding shower cools you down
Cows give evaporated milk
A dog is chasing a cat, and they’re both walking.
The directions on a can of soup say, “Just pour and eat.”
You notice your car overheating before you drive it.
The best parking place is determined by shade instead of distance
Pigs complain about sweating like humans.
I know, it’s more humor than anyone can stand.  I’ll be here all week: remember to tip your server!

Seriously, as much as we complained about the heat, one of the leaders in church reminded us how fortunate we are to have air conditioning and have cars.  People in some parts of the world have no cars and must walk long distances, often to procure food or water. We are indeed blessed and fortunate and when we think about how blessed and fortunate most of us are, it doesn’t seem as hot any more.

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Bright Hope for Tomorrow

I have been referring all week to Music Camp at Eagle Eyrie, the Baptist Assembly outside Lynchburg.  Actually, the real name of the event is Music and Worship Arts Camp, sponsored by the Virginia Baptist Mission Board in Richmond.  Baptist churches are independent but cooperate through agencies like the VBMB for missions and support. The camp this week was a kind of arts camp  with a decided musical emphasis for fourth through eighth graders.

The assembly at Eagle Eyrie is 55 years old and perches on the side of a steep mountain. It had fallen into a state of disrepair several years ago, with peeling paint, broken fences and walls, and old fixtures.  A largely volunteer committee, headed by our pastor at Manassas Baptist Church, Bill Higgins, restored the property.  Today it looks fresh and new, with beautiful plantings and landscaping.

The Music and Worship Arts Camp is coordinated through the Worship and Church Music Ministries division of the VBMB, headed by Tom Ingram, Field Strategist/Worship and Church Music Specialist, and Debbie Cobb,  Administrative Assistant to Empowering Leaders Team.  They are dedicated, humble, Spirit-filled servants who essentially put together a school for 250 children each summer, along with their other duties during the year. They work with a committee to establish a theme (this year’s was “Paper, Rock, Scissors.” I have a tee shirt with that on it) beginning in February.  Becky is on the committee as are several other Virginia church musicians such as Fred Horn and Bernadine Donovan.  (I don’t know the names of the others on the committee.)

 Tom and Debbie are assisted at the camp by several energetic interns either in college or just out of it, Laura, Hilliary, Ariana and Megan. There were thirty-eight faculty members this year, along with numerous chaperones of church groups.  These faculty members are incredibly talented and experienced musicians who are  a joy to watch work with the 250 children.

I slid in as a teacher by teaching a class in song-writing, using my experience teaching writing which is more developed than my musical skills. The class was called “Lots of Lyrics,” and the students showed great insight and creativity writing words to familiar tunes, writing poems based on the Psalms and writing a song base don a Biblical event. One of their songs was used in a worship service. 

Class selections include handbells, a vocal ensemble, banners, guitar 1 &2, instrumental ensemble, interpretive movement, make it/give it (students make an item which is give to an orphanage or shelter), orchestra, piano, ‘scapes (visual art project), puppets, stomp (students play trash cans, pots and pans, and some other more or less indescribable instruments), voice, drumming, and worship leadership. Each student is also part of a choir, Alpha for younger children, and Omega for the older ones.  The choirs are usually directed by musicians from out of state, although Becky directed the Alpha choir last year.  Imagine directing a choir of 135 children!

The Worship and Church Music Ministries division also sponsors an All-State Choir and Orchestra in February, with students chosen by audition from all over the state.  They work with a director and produce some beautiful music.

I think you can tell this week, while exhausting, was a mountaintop experience for me, both literally and figuratively. Seeing the leaders work with the children, who were exceptionally well-behaved and enthusiastic (with some exceptions–they are children, after all) was uplifting. I helped David Cameron, from Martinsville church, who taught Guitar 1, with one class, since it’s a bit daunting to try to get 12 beginning guitarists’ instruments in tune.  He talked with them about eventually taking the places of the church musicians now working.  Their experiences at camp are a start, he said, and they could work until they are ready to step in at some point in the future when we can’t minister any longer.  Judging from what I saw this week on the mountaintop, thanks to the efforts of a lot of people and the grace of God, that future is very bright indeed.

Here’s a video of the Resurrection Dance.  It’s not the official one which was shot from a balcony, but one from ground level by one of the faculty members. I hope it gives you an idea of what happened.


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Too Hot to Write

Sorry, blogging friends, but it’s too hot to write.  My brain has been scrambled by a combination of being around 250 (mostly well-behaved but energetic) children between the ages of 8 and 13 and countless social interactions that wear me out.  I’ll do a bonus post tomorrow (Saturday edition!) with some reflections on Music Camp this year.

In the three cities we were in today–Lynchburg, Charlottesville and Manassas–the air temperature was 103 degrees and the heat index anywhere from 105 to 113. No wonder I feel drained in spite of about four hours in an air-conditioned car. The maximum temperature feature today on my thermometer recorded 103.6 degrees–and the sensor is in the shade.

One note about the flash dance, which went well: we spent an hour on asphalt that had been baked in the sun for ten hours. This morning, I noticed the soles of my feet hurt and found they were a bright pink. I had been burned through the half-inch soles of my walking sandals. A little Solarcaine and I was good to go.  I guess people do burn the soles of their feet, but I did it with sandals on.

More tomorrow. I’m going to fill the tub with ice cubes and crawl in.


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More Travel Tips

Stevie Wonder had a song featuring a lot of harmonica called “Fingertips, Parts 1 and 2.” I could have called this “Travel Tips, Part 2,” but I don’t know if the connection would have been evident without some explanation.  Anyhow, call it what you want.

You might recall that I wrote about the wisdom of having duplicates of certain items while traveling. My glasses came apart and I did not have a spare. Luckily, Becky did and I was able to use those until I had mine repaired. I should add that we are about 10 minutes away from a basic convenience store, 15 away from a Walgreen’s and 30 minutes away from a mall. The time and distance are not the problem: the problem is finding time in a fairly busy schedule to go shopping.

So–I think I wrote that we brought a laptop and a netbook, which seems like wretched excess, but we have ended up using them at the same time.  Becky has done the bulletin for Sunday and emailed it in and conducted other business; I have written here and kept up with email. We had duplicate computers: what we didn’t have was extra batteries for the cordless mice (mouses? meece?). And you guessed it: the batteries went out on both within fifteen minutes of each other. I could have pirated (arr!) the AA’s from the camera, which does have a spare set, but we made the trip down the mountain for more.

I suppose it’s difficult to think of every thing one needs on a trip, but I’ve learned of a couple: glasses and batteries.  I’m sure there are more, but I don’t want to find out this week what they are.

Flash Dance Update: It happens on the lower main parking lot this evening at 6 PM.  We can’t use the upper part of the lot because it slopes so steeply. One young woman tried busting some moves on the upper lot and found she fell over.  And she is coordinated.  A crew has been out marking the lines for us to stand on, although they’re not sure the tape they used will stick in the 100 degree temperatures (heat index of 103 degrees) predicted for today. I’ll have a full report tomorrow.

Here’s the reaction to this event on Facebook from our daughter Alyssa: My parents are going to be part of a flash mob. My mother is not sure if they did “the pony” or not. Please excuse me while I go prepare for the impending apocalypse. (When they enter a beer pong tournament, that’s when I will go hide in a bunker.) …I am for real. And they are doing this as part of a Baptist church camp… I’m actually kind of terrified.

Who said the old folks can’t boogie?


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Boogie Nights

Well.  I am here to report that there was dancing at the Baptist Assembly at Eagle Eyrie outside Lynchburg last evening.  Lots of dancing.  By lots of people.

Actually, it was more like liturgical dancing (or as some Baptists call it, “enhanced liturgical movement”) than doing the Hustle. About 300 of us at Music Camp gathered in the auditorium to learn the moves for the “Resurrection Sunday Dance,” first done in Budapest, Hungary in 2010. (Here’s a link to a video of that dance– It’s a flash mob style event, and we will tape it when we do it on the parking lot Thursday evening.  Our version will be cut into a video of groups from all around Virginia and shown at the October meeting of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board in Richmond. I’m at the end of row 10 but don’t expect any expert moves from this dancing Baptist. Although I did have dance lessons once.

They were offered by my elementary school as part of their general effort to civilize us.  We met after school in the cafeteria, I think in sixth grade, contributed our quarters for the lesson and watched the steps demonstrated by a nice young woman who would have been fascinating to watch if any of the boys had any interest in women at all, which we didn’t. Then we practiced the fox trot or cha cha or mambo or meringue with girls in the class (reluctantly).  I did become a pretty good dancer after a while although those skills have faded.

Once memorable lesson our teacher brought with her a slim young man with a dark mustache.  I think they did a demonstration of the tango which I thought was one of the coolest things I had ever seen.  I still would like to learn to tango, but I don’t think we’ll be doing that at the Baptist Assembly any time soon.

Followups: Yesterday was shopping day so we went over to River Ridge Mall outside Lynchburg.  I took my broken glasses to the Sears optical department there and an incredibly nice woman fixed them in two minutes and didn’t charge me a thing!  A happy ending.  In other news relating to what to pack, the AAA battery in the cordless mouse for the notebook went out, leaving us at the mercy of the diabolical touch pad. Something else to remember to pack: spare batteries.


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