Monthly Archives: December 2011

Some Words and a Poem for the Next to Last Day of the Year

One of my favorite old school poets is Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who had a cool name and wrote some serious verse. Tennyson was Poet Laureate during Queen Victoria’s reign in England and wrote such poems as “The Lady of Shalott,” “Ulysses,” the magnum opus In Memoriam A.H.H. (written for his sister’s fiancé who died at the age of 22,)The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Idylls of the King, and “Crossing the Bar,” a favorite of my mother’s which we had read at her funeral. Unfortunately, Tennyson is quite out of fashion among academics so I never studied him in my coursework. I could have taken a class in Victorian verse but at my tender age didn’t have the appreciation for that period in literature that I do now. So I skipped from the Romantics to the Realists, as did most of  my compères. (I know, we were a cheeky lot.) And so, here’s to you, Alfred and all your mad verse! In “Ring Out, Wild Bells!” some of the wishes and conditions ring as true today as they were in 1850.

Ring Out Wild Bells
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

A happy and prosperous New Year, everyone. God bless you all.


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“Another Auld Lang Syne” Unit Quiz

(Just for Alyssa, who loves this song and knows all about it.)
(Actually, JK, she can’t stand it. I do like it, in spite of having some fun with it. Dan Fogelberg left us too soon. I love “Run for the Roses”, “Heart Hotels” and especially “Leader of the Band.” For a balance to this foolisheness, I hope you visit the Dan Fogelberg  Website at 

“Another Old Lang Syne”

1. Where did the speaker meet his “old love?”
2. Was she actually old or did he mean “former?” Why didn’t he say “former?”
3. When did this occur and what was the weather like?
4. Where did he encounter her? Do you find that disturbing?
5. How did he get her attention? Was this a “good” touch or a “bad” touch?
6. Did she recognize him at first? How did she react?
7. Why did they “laugh until (they) cried?” What does this show about their sense of humor?
8. Where did they take her groceries? What happened to them there? Were you surprised by that?
9. As they stood there, why were they embarrassed? What happened to the conversation as a result?
10. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?
11. How did they have a “drink or two?”
12. How classy was that?
13. What two toasts did they drink?
14. Were they able to reach behind the emptiness? Why or why not? Would you have been able to reach behind the emptiness yourself?
15. Who had she married?
16. How did he keep her? (“In a pumpkin shell” is not an acceptable answer.)
17. Would she have liked to have said she loved the man? Why didn’t she?
18. Had the years been a friend to her?
19. What color were her eyes?
20. What conflicting emotions did the singer see in her eyes?
21. Can you tell the difference between doubt and gratitude in someone’s eyes? Why or why not?
22. Where had she seen him?
23. What exactly was a record store, anyhow/? Are you sure?
24. Do you think he was doing well?
25. Characterize the audience and the traveling. Do not use bad words, if possible.
26. Do you think the traveling was “hell” because he had to play at venues with goofy names like Jiffy Lube Live?
27. What did they relive in their eloquence? Grammatically, exactly how does the phrase “reliving in our eloquence” work? (I can’t make any sense of it.)
28. So how did this all end?
29. How did she end their time together? Do you think that was sweet?
30. What did he watch her do?
31. So he had a flashback to when he was in school. Why do you think this happened?
32. What did he feel? Why? (I don’t know why either. I guess I’m dense.)
33. What happened to the meteorological conditions as he turned to make his back home? Was this symbolic like in a Hemingway short story? Of what? How do you know?
34. Why is this song titled with the name of a song associated with New Year’s when it happens on Christmas Eve? What’s up with that?


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Picture Pages!

It must be Picture Week in Biscuit City! Or at least picture days!  These are from the construction activity of our having the house resided! Enjoy!


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Siding with the House and Hollies

For those of you who have been asking about our siding job, here are some pictures. The project was completed in four days by Greco Remodelers, the same folks who redid our kitchen four years ago. The picture above is a shot of the front of the house. The siding color is a cream shade ; no doubt like the  pine trees lining a winding road,  it has a name,  but I don’t know what it is. Visible in the front shot are the porch’s carol sticks, our American flag and the decorative red holiday bow on the lamppost with the solar lamp head. (Center of the picture) Shutters to be put back on the upper story and all shutters to be painted dark gray by someone both intelligent and charming. Ahem.

South side of the house, showing the chimney for the two fireplaces we never use, upper story bedroom windows, including the window to the right of the computer room where I sit writing this (hi, Mom!), the functional yet ugly basement windows, the inadvertent growth of ivy on the chimney (blasted plant from the far reaches of Hell), the large holly tree to the left and the poor stumps of two holly shrubs (left and right) and one pyracantha (center). John Greco plans to add “Landscaping” to “Remodeling” on the corporate sign, he tells me. John’s a great guy. If the hollies don’t come out (the pyracantha will–you can’t kill one) he’ll replace them. Can’t beat that!

Rear of the house showing some of the 4000 windows on the back. From the lower patio on the left to the top of the wall is about 40 feet. Dizzying, all right. Our deck to the right, scene of my survival of the quake of 2011. Notice how I neatly avoided sun flare by squatting down to take the picture. Excuse me, is that National Geographic calling? It must be!

Shot to right of the previous one. The large black bulky object above the Kelly green deck facing is our four-burner propane grill. To the right, a utilitarian yet essential display of the designer concrete block steps to the yard, and our recycling bin and main trash can.

North side of the house, with the lovely white storm door from Lowes installed by moi, the picture window of the studio and a reasonably pruned holly tree. The ground is brown here because it’s mud.

All this looks like a real estate ad. Make me an offer north of $400,000 and it’s yours. I’ll even throw in the shutters free!

Closer shot of the Enchanted Forest of Sticks on the south side (the baddest part of the yard). Bets available on whether they will come back or not. Current odds: 5:1  that they will come back. Notice the photographer’s shadow in the foreground, sign of a true professional. I’m also available for weddings.
Thanks for playing What We Finally Had Done to the House. Tune in next year when we feature Windows from this Century!

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A Bright and a Sunny Side of Life

The Christmas season just past was both one of beauty and serenity but it was also, as we know, at moments a time of stress and ugliness. While my experiences this year never included being trampled by a mob intent on bargains, being pepper sprayed by someone who wanted a video game more than I did (that would be almost anyone), or getting into a ramming match over a parking space, I did experience some tension over the past several weeks. Last week it seemed as if no one had gone to work and they were instead driving around and jostling in packed mobs in almost every store I went into. I know, I was driving around, but I don’t have a job to go to. As for jostling, it’s not my favorite contact sport to begin with so I leave when it starts. That’s why I do as much of my shopping (such as it is) on line.

There were some moments during this period that shone with the milk of human kindness (mixed metaphor alert–but I’m too tired to care. Send in your fixes to the comment section.) In the first one, I was one car behind a car parts tractor trailer making a left turn into the car parts store lot from a two-lane shopping center road. A traffic light in back of us backed up a line of cars so that the truck could not hit the right angle between the oncoming cars which had left a too-small gap for it (You might get out some toy cars and trucks and work this out for yourself. I could post a video using some cars and trucks but I don’t have any little cars or trucks and I ain’t that good with video. Sorry.)  As a result, the truck missed the entry cutdown in the sidewalk and started to run up on the curb. It stopped, and with considerable skill, the driver backed up, got the proper angle since the traffic blocking him from doing so had moved out of the way, and pulled the tractor-trailer assembly smoothly into the limited available space. The remarkable thing about this whole encounter is that all the drivers waiting for this skilled truck driver to make his way into the parking lot made room for him to do so and sat patiently while he got hung up. (I was, as I said, in a position where I wasn’t going anywhere anyhow so I contributed nothing to the resolution of this traffic dilemma. I suppose I could have blown my horn and become the biggest jerk at that location.) It was a beautiful moment. Srsly.

Then I lost my mind and went to Costco on Friday the 23rd about noon to pick up our Christmas card pictures and buy a pumpkin pie. I decided I would be calm and not worry about being crushed by one of many carts flying around the lot and store packed to the gills with merchandise since my health insurance is pretty good. I parked somewhere near Centreville (if you’re not local, this is a slight hyperbole–Centreville is about 8 miles from the Manassas Costco. Just a little literary effect for my readers. Hope you enjoyed it) and made the long walk in, successfully and narrowly avoiding being run over by car and cart alike. I procured and paid for our pictures and jostled my way to the pumpkin pie case, elbows flying with the rest of my compadres. I then made my way slowly and carefully to down the teeming aisles to the checkouts, which were stacked up with people buying provisions for all the local orphanages for the next six months.

I had decided to stay calm so I got in line behind two ladies who were obviously from an unnamed rural area to our west and were having a hilarious conversation about the culinary talents of an unnamed relative.

“Yeah,” one said, “She’ll cook up a possum and think she’s really done something. She offered some to me and I told her I’d never be hungry enough to eat that.”

The other said, “I heard she uses roadkill because she’s too lazy to shoot one herself…”

I suppose at this point they noticed I was listening real hard and turned around. “You’ve only got two items,” the first lady said, “and we have our supplies for the orphanage for the next six months. Why don’t you go ahead of us?”

I was a little taken aback at being caught eavesdropping (I love to do it–especially when people are having a verbal fight. A couple was arguing across the roof of their car in the Bloom parking lot a couple of days before I lost my mind and I perhaps was watching and listening a little too intently because the man looked at me and said, “What are YOU looking at?” I wanted to say, “Robert De Niro, Taxi Driver, 1976, directed by Martin Scorsese,” but figured that it was neither the time nor the place for a seminar on one of my favorite movies. I moved on and bought some bananas, which seemed the right thing to do.)

Anyhow, I thanked the ladies profusely and told them they represented the best of the Christmas spirit. I stepped around their pile of stuff on the belt and have my pie to the cashier. She had heard the ladies’ kind offer and said, “And you will be paying for these ladies as well, I take it?”

I was speechless until I figured out she was joking (I’m quick like that) and laughed. The ladies played along. The first one said, “Well, I’ll go back and get me ten more cartons of cigarettes.” For a moment I thought I had contributed to the slow death of an entire orphanage from second-hand smoke but realized she was probably joking. We all had a good laugh (nothing funnier than a carcinogen-dealing product!) and I took my pie and receipt, wished everyone in the general area a Merry Christmas and started on the long trek back to my car with a lighter heart and a springier step.

The last magic moment this season (in public–there were plenty church and at home–for example, Alyssa adopted a pony in my name. I always wanted a pony! Now I have one!  But he lives on an island in the Bay. Oh, well…I hope he’s happy) occurred  when I went to Bloom about half an hour before they closed on Christmas Eve to buy bacon for our traditional Christmas breakfast. A young woman was standing at the front entrance pleasantly reminding incoming customers that the store would be closing in thirty minutes. I got my bacon quickly and started past the nice young woman. She smiled a brilliant smile (kind of like Rachael Ray’s, Alyssa) and said, “Merry Christmas, sir!” I returned the greeting and told her I hoped Santa would be good to her. She said she hoped he would be to me, too. I said I didn’t have much hope because I had been very bad all year. (This too was hyperbole. I have been very good this year and in fact got only one lump of coal in my stocking and that was for a speeding ticket that was dismissed.) She laughed and said she was sure I wasn’t that bad. I walked out into the parking lot feeling good that there are patient, kind, helpful, thoughtful, funny, friendly people in this world, and for my part, pretty young women with nice smiles and silvery laughs. Hope you experienced something like I did this season as well.

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We Three Kings

A  lady from church I call Cousin Mary because her maiden name is close to ours and we just might be related, came by yesterday morning and dropped off a present for us. She was on her way to run errands so she couldn’t come in (Christmas decoration was in the, uh, developmental stage at our house at the point. When you’re involved in music in general and church music in particular, the decorating don’t get done until after the ladies sing the final note.) so we stood and talked a while at the porch.

I believe she commented first on the three “carolers” made from 2×4’s and clothed in sweaters and knit caps with painted faces, holding sheet music with their wire arms that adorn our front stoop. These wonderfully whimsical decorations were a gift from Becky’s sister Sue. While I admit I did not care for them at first (I called them the “Ugly Sticks,”) they grew on me and I now think they’re the bee’s knees. As Alexander Pope wrote in “essay on Man, Epistle II” (the one that begins, famously, “Know, then, thyself, presume not God to scan; The proper study of mankind is man,”) “We first endure, then pity, then embrace.” Oh yes.

One of us made the comment that they were shabbily dressed, which is part of their charm, and I think Mary compared them to the Three Kings in the Christmas story. She thought maybe they were not well dressed since they probably took off after the star without packing their Sunday best. I allowed as how I really didn’t know, but possibly the kings (magi or astrologers from Persia) were royalty, had high status and most likely had servants and traveled in a sizeable entourage for company and safety. I think they had servants, and those servants would have packed the supplies for a long journey, the gifts for the new King, and changes of clothes, especially their royal finery for the actual visit.

We stood by the porch and imagined the scene in Nazareth that day. The small dusty Galilean village, perhaps dozing in the sun at midday. Suddenly there is excitement! Someone has been spotted coming into town! Not just any someone–it’s a whole caravan of someones, and from their visages and clothing, it’s clear that they are wealthy rulers from the East. The children run to see, first, and then are joined by the women. The men look up from their trades and businesses. They do not run to see, but they curiously watch the passing procession. It winds its way through the narrow streets to the house of Joseph bar-David where he lives with his young wife and young son.

The men on camels dismount. Their leaders consult quietly: yes, this is the place. The star tells them they are in the right place. The servants bustle about, unpacking the gifts they have brought from so far away. Some servants unpack robes and jewlery of such worth that no one has seen anything like it. Its value could buy ten Nazareths, people, livestock, buildings, real estate and goods, all. The leaders take off their travel robes, dusty from the miles, and then allow the servants to dress them in their finery. They truly glitter like kings and they crowd of townspeople are stricken into silence at their appearance. Why are they here and what do they want?

This question is answered as the three men, with stately walk and focused countenance, turn toward Joseph’s humble house. The magihave to duck to enter the low door–it is evident from their slight awkwardness that they have little practice with bowing or ducking–carrying their chests and bottles and casks with their treasures. And there, in the dim light of the front room,the assembled crowd watches them fall to their knees and offer up what they have brought to the young baby held in his mother’s arms. And the kings, who have come so far, with faces so often serious and worried, smile.

O come let us all adore Him, Christ the Lord.

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Poem for December

Nope, I didn’t write this. Wish I had, but couldn’t have, in a million years. Enjoy the sonnet. (It’s one difficult thing to write a sonnet; it’s another to write one that doesn’t seem like it’s a sonnet. Wow.)


by Gary Johnson

A little girl is singing for the faithful to come ye
Joyful and triumphant, a song she loves,
And also the partridge in a pear tree
And the golden rings and the turtle doves.
In the dark streets, red lights and green and blue
Where the faithful live, some joyful, some troubled,
Enduring the cold and also the flu,
Taking the garbage out and keeping the sidewalk shoveled.
Not much triumph going on here—and yet
There is much we do not understand.
And my hopes and fears are met
In this small singer holding onto my hand.            

Onward we go, faithfully, into the dark     
And are there angels hovering overhead? Hark.

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‘Tis the Season to Not Have Time to Write Anything

So, here’s a link to a cool picture:


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Why I Am a Musical Genius, Part 43

So Becky was giving me some ideas of what she wanted from me for Christmas, and one of these things was a good recording of the Mozart Requiem, part of which is played at the end of Amadeus to wrench our hearts out as the poor fellow wastes away and dies.

Wishing to display my musical knowledge in particular and my broad cultural background in general, I asked, “In German or English?”

She hesitated for a second. “It’s in Latin.”

“Oh,” I mumbled. “I knew that.”

Some days are like that.

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Tiny Faces at the Manger

Last night the children’s choirs at our church staged their Christmas musical and if you were there, you had to go home and put on another pair of socks because yours had been charmed off. This yearly event, which I have attended for 38 years now, marks the start of the season of the  Christmas Spirit for me. The church sanctuary was packed, as it always is, with family, friends and unrelated people from the church and community. Scrooge would have had his heart melted without the benefit of visits from the three Ghosts of Christmas had he been present (and had he not been a fictional character!).  We all watched the playing out of the oldest of stories by the youngest among us. There were the shepherds, who usually end up smacking each other with their stuffed sheep at some point; the beautiful angels who sometimes forget their lines; Mary and Joseph, who manage to look like miniature adults but who are not above squabbling like an old married couple off-stage; the three Wise Men, boy who look dignified and serious in their kingly robes; and Baby Jesus, played by a doll from the church nursery.  It’s classic. I hope you’ll come and see it next year.

My wife Becky has directed this enterprise most of the time she has been on staff at the church, and it involved sixteen choir leaders with a combined experience working with children and music of about 279 years. Some of the children in the production last night are children themselves of people who were in past shows. And some of the children in past productions are choir leaders: our adult children Amy and Alyssa direct and lead the Celebration Choir for grades one and two (along with Stan “Mr. Stan” Wallace and Diana “Amish” Hodgson), and Bridget Rose and Liz Yeun who also help with the choirs.

Thank you, children, leaders, families, friends and everyone else for a ray of light in a world that is still shrouded in darkness. It was once the oldest and newest of all stories.

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