Monthly Archives: January 2012

Breaker, Breaker…

On Facebook, you can “like” almost anything (and “unlike” it if you change your mind about how you feel about bacon, say), including businesses and institutions. One of my likes is J.E. Rice’s Hardware Store in the Manassas Shopping Center not far from where I live, in Manassas. In fact, I wish FB had a “love” button because I more than “like” Rice’s: I love it!
I have been going to Rice’s, now in its 75th year, for over 30 years. They not only have everything that a hardware store should have: they have some things most hardware stores don’t have. And in 30 years of my asking for often odd and arcane items, they have not had what I needed or wanted a grand total of three times. Each time they have told me where I could find what I was looking for, even though it involved going to another store. Service is a key to the Rice’s experience, and that’s what I call service!
Not only will they figure out the part you need to fix something when you don’t know the real name of the part or what it does (Me: “It’s this little plastic thingie that fits on the end of a shaft and turns so that it engages this other white plastic or is it nylon thingie to open this little door…”  Steve or Jamie or Chase or anyone else who works there: “Yeah, I know what you need. We got it…)
Not only will they sell you a replacement part, they’ll tell you how to install it without hurting yourself. This summer I was putting in a garbage disposal for daughter Amy who was on a vacation in the Southwest. The drain set up wasn’t standard so I drew it up and went to Rice’s. Jamie met me, studied my crude diagram, led me to the plumbing parts, took several pieces of pipe and pipe joints and showed me how they fit together.
Well, because I am spatially challenged and don’t know what I’m doing, it took me four hours and four more trips to Rice’s to get the disposal to work without leaking or throwing off sparks.  At every revisit, Jamie carefully listened to what I had to say, figured out what I needed and gave it to me with a smile. By the last visit, I think the entire hardware store was cheering for me. It was a great experience.
Much the same thing happened when our furnace stopped dead and would not come back on. It was when we had snow (yes, it was cold enough for snow at one time this winter) and temperatures below freezing. I woke up to a 56 degree house, colder than I like it for sleeping. The thermostat was “calling” for heat (“I am calling yooooooooou!) but the heat wouldn’t listen. Or come on. Through clever diagnostic work and deduction (and a check of the internet), I diagnosed the fault as a bad breaker. I toddled off to Rice’s where Jamie listened to my description of the problem agreed that it was probably the breaker, and then sent me to another store because Rice’s did not carry that particular brand of breaker (they can be different–who knew?). I got the parts. Jamie had told me how to put them in and warned me about the dangers of electricity with a  story about his trying to install an air conditioning unit that shorted out and shocked him, blowing him back across the yard.  I needed no further cautionary tales so I took myself back to the furnace, threw the main breaker (for safety and continued existence on this earth), snapped the breaker in and fired that big boy up. Warm air never felt  so good.
So, whenever you go to Rice’s you’ll know that you can count on an amazing inventory, a helpful staff and wonderful service. I still don’t know everyone’s names, but you will see Steve, always gracious and ready to talk about a subject of interest; Jamie, whom I mentioned earlier; and Chase, whom I am not as familiar with but a nice fellow, and very knowledgeable, as they all are.  And don’t forget the fabulous hardware ladies, Kristin and Patty, who are not only young and energetic: they are knowledgeable and helpful and know their hardware. And they love books and reading. Imagine that. Rice’s truly does have it all.

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I Heard the News Today, Oh Boy

I have actually had some loyal BC readers (all of whom are both attractive and intelligent) ask me when I do my writing. Now, usually only other writers are interested in how and where other writers write, so it’s nice see that readers and other people have an interest in this question. When people ask me this, my initial thought is “In the kitchen…with a knife…” but I usually mumble something like “Whenever I get to it,” or “When I’m slammed up against a deadline.” So, there’s nothing much to see there but I don’t want to disappoint units of loyal readers so I thought I’d make the topic a bit more grandiose and write about (cue the trumpet fanfare):

A Day in the Writing Life
Alert readers (and you are all indeed alert and rested) will notice the steals from the Beatles song of the same name and wonder if this will end with me “blowing my mind out in a car,” either literally or figuratively or both.  Well, I’m writing this, after all, so the answer is “No,” both literally and figuratively. I wouldn’t do that either way because I would impede traffic and that really hacks off other drivers and creates a backup which is reported from the Glass Enclosed Nerve Center of WTOP 103.5 (note to ‘TOP: please lose the GENC label! You’re on the radio! No one knows or cares if the working space is enclosed by glass, cardboard or leftover pizza, which, since we’re told that it is fueled by a certain kind of pizza, it probably is.)
Actually, since every day is a little different and I never know when I’ll be writing, let’s just say that I do it at various times during the way and for different lengths of time. When I was teaching, I soon  found that if I could use little pockets of time to look at some of the omnipresent papers I carried with me at all times like a bad skin rash (I know, ewwwwww! Gross simile of the week!) It gets the job done, as someone once said.
So, in answer to the question “When do you write?” I would have to say at all times and at no time. And this, as Hamlet said, was sometime a paradox.


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The Modesty Rail

Well, if you’re looking for modesty, you won’t find it here. This week’s Biscuit City Poem of the Week was penned by none other than your not-so-humble blogster with a lot of help from my friends.  Enjoy!

The Large Place
for our mothers
Psalm 18: 19: The Lord brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.

the sky
is blue
and clear
looks like it
goes out to
( self-evident
and not true)

true that it fades
into near nothingness.

we fly
through the blue
and come back
in hours

some birds
fly for
if they are

satellites circle
without effort
as if
they are never
coming down
(not true)

they fall
all of them
after a while
through the near nothingness
through the blue
flaming across
the sky

flowers against
the Large Place
of the

–Dan Verner

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10,000 Hours

After Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger  ditched US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River in January, 2009, a number of articles appeared about the “10,000 hour principle,” most notably Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. Gladwell maintained that 10,000 hours is the amount of time required, more or less, to become an expert in most fields. (For the record, this number of hours equals the time spent in class and in studying to get a bachelor’s and master’s degree and then work for two years.)  Capt’n Sully had 12,000 hours flight time (my brother Ron, a retired pilot, has 17,000. I have one 1), if anyone wants to know.) and so qualified as an expert. The hours he spent sailplaning didn’t hurt, either.  I bet no one asked him where the engine was on his glider after the Miracle on the Hudson.

My point in all of this is: if you want to be a writer, you need to write. A lot. You need to write and write and write and write and then write some more. Write regularly at the same time and in the same place if you can. If you can’t, write wherever you are, whenever you can. Carry a notebook or if you tend to lose things like that (ahem), some paper to write on.  And a pen or pencil. Or a laptop. Whatever.

And you need an audience to read what you’ve written. Fix up a blog for yourself. (It’s easy—even I did it. If you can’t figure out how to do that, get a fifteen year old to help you in exchange for pizza.)  Run your stuff off and give it to your friends and family. Try to get published. Don’t fear rejection. It’s going to happen. Sooner or later you’ll start to succeed. Your family will stop running away when they see you coming toward them with paper in hand.  Your friends will ask you if you’ve written anything lately. Or maybe you won’t succeed. You’ll have had a great time doing so.

But it doesn’t happen overnight. 10,000 hours, remember?

It also helps to be in touch with other writers like yourself. I recommend a local group here in Manassas, Write by the Rails, which you can “like” as a group on Facebook. They have events and readings and you can identify some other writers you can hang out with. But don’t hang out too much. You’ll need the time to write.

It can help some people to take writing courses. Several local writers are involved in C.F.A. or M.F.A. programs, and there are classes taught at the Center for the arts in Manassas.  Some people, like local novelist Nancy Kyme, taught herself to write. That’s unusual and hard to do, but Nancy’s beautiful novel, Memory Lake, is proof it can be done. And Memory Lake,  she said, took her about ten years to write. If she wrote and edited four hours a day, five days a week with a two-week vacation from writing, that’s about 10,000 hour.

So, get going! What are you waiting for? Write!

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A Serious and Smiling Writer

It’s not possible to talk for long with Heidi Willis without realizing she is a serious woman: serious about her life, about her faith and about her art. That seriousness underlies a ready smile and a sparkling wit. Heidi is devoted to her family of husband Todd and their three children and practices a deep and quiet faith that is evident in her writing and in her conversation.  On her Facebook information page, she quoted a sentence from Esther,
Maybe you were put here in this place for such a time as this. (Esther 4:13)
Heidi is passionate about writing. But she keeps it in perspective. Again from Facebook:
A writer. A photographer. A multi-media business owner and creator. And, unbelievably, I’ve been able to make money at all of them. But mostly, a mom. Which, while I won’t earn a cent doing it, is the most important thing I will ever do.
Her Facebook site is a treasure trove of observations, insights, up to the minute reports on the happenings of the day and exchanges with friends. Her blog ( and website ( offer the same depth and sense of energy. She writes about not wanting to write, but write she does and the results are worth anyone’s time and effort to read.

Tempering all that seriousness is a wry sense of humor, evident from the opening sentences of her first book, Some Kind of Normal,  a book with the serious theme of a family struggling with the sudden onset of type I diabetes in their daughter. The narrator opens the book by worrying that she is slowly killing her family with breakfast:
I ain’t one to bash being healthy, but it sure takes the fun out of living. My motivation to be the perfect mom starts about six a.m. when I swing my legs over the bed and ends fifteen minutes later when I stumble into the kitchen to make coffee and figure out what I can cook for breakfast that won’t kill no one. 
That’s the voice of Babs Babcock, central character of the novel and mother to the stricken girl. Heidi has the character and her voice and tone pitch perfect. To my mind, Babs is a ready successor to Huckleberry Finn, a distinctive character a who engages our sympathy and trust.  We grow to love her and her family in the course of the novel. I hope sincerely there will be more stories about Babs and her friends and neighbors
My advice is to get the book, read it, read Heidi’s website and blog and wait with anticipation more stories and writing from this serious and smiling woman.
Heidi  Willis (nee VanBrokehoven)  graduated from Penn State with degrees in Education and Communications. She is currently  an MFA candidate at Pacific University in Oregon.

Her poetry has been published in Ignite Your Faith (formerly Campus Life Magazine) and her debut novel,  Some Kind of Normal, was published by NorLights Press in 2009.

She also takes amazingly beautiful photographs. Indeed she has been put here in this place for a time such as this, and we are all better off for all that.


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Neighborhood HR Lady Comes to Town

Courtesy of my Neighborhood HR Lady Daughter from an actual Facebook thread (names hidden):
Today’s advice from your neighborhood HR lady: if you have a phone interview with another company, and you can’t take it during non-business hours or from your office, the company stairwell probably isn’t your next best option.
Commentator #1: You heard me? I mean, what an idiot!!!
Neighborhood HR Lady: It  is like a total echo chamber in the stairwell. I just don’t get it.
Commentator #2: Maybe they were just looking to add some natural reverb to their interview voice.
Dan VernerMaybe they were joining an a capella group. Some of them practice in stairwells!
Commentator #3: Is the next best option the toilet? I really need to know.
Commentator #4: I had somebody leave a business application and resume on a company network printer. And when I found it, and dropped it off on their desk, they claimed a privacy violation. (Which, btw, it isn’t.)
#1: Of course they would claim that where you work. No one ever think *they* could be wrong.
Dan Verner: Bathrooms are good to sing in. Same principle.
Neighborhood HR Lady: I would argue that using autotune in one’s car would produce the desired reverb AND allow for privacy. The next best options might include your vehicle, outside of the building (not by the entrance), booking a conference room, or going to Starbucks. Not the toilet.
Commentator #5: On our team folks just take the interview in the office they share with someone else 🙂
Neighborhood HR Lady: Well, you are in Quality Assurance. Maybe they just want their colleague to assure the quality of their interview? Okay, then, better options include a dive bar, a brothel, the emergency room waiting room, or the Cry Room of your local church.
Commentator #2: Where is this brothel you speak of? Er, so I can avoid it!!
Neighborhood HR Lady: Looks like you’ll have to go 44 miles away and to another state to “avoid” said brothel. And actually, there is nothing more to this other than me politely asking the person to move so I could use the stairs for their intended purpose, which was to get to the free cheesecake on the 4th floor.
Commentator #6: Whoa. How do you get the emails about cheesecake on the 4th floor? Who do I need to ask?
Neighborhood HR Lady: I think one of the nurses told me actually.

Dan Verner: This is another classic thread, HR Lady. Will you be visting FB again soon with your magic  carpet bag, flying above the city with your little pink parasol while charming chimney sweeps sing and dance on the roofs, at the same time contracting odious diseases from unprotected exposure to coal dust?
Neighborhood HR Lady: Say wha’?
Dan Verner: Sorry, wrong story.
HR Lady will be back the next time someone commits an interesting crime against compliance.
Dan Verner: Neighborhood HR Lady, would you write a regular column? So many of us have pressing HR questions only you should answer. Example: should I use my new press pass for good or for evil?
Keep reading this space for the next time the Neighborhood HR Lady  comes to town And remember her motto: “I’ll send you the personal effects from your desk by courier when you are terminated for odd behavior.”

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Some Random Jottings

I know, every post could have the title of this one, but I do have a collection of random subjects to write about, so today is as good a time as any.

Lions and Tigers and…Panthers? 

My dad’s financial guy extraordinaire, Mike Washer, was telling me that my dad told him that years ago there was a park ranger at Manassas Battlefield Park (about six miles from where we live) who was tired of deer overrunning the place and got some panthers to let loose and control the deer population. Since then there have been panther sightings  around the area, including the Battlefield, Haymarket and Prince William Hospital. If you see a large black kitty cat, do not approach him/her/it. Raise your hands high above your head, back away slowly and intone “Nice kitty, kitty” in a low voice. Be careful. It’s a jungle out there….

Smarty Pants and Other Similar Appellations

I am indebted to Chorale soprano extraordinaire Marcy Pratt for this linguistic invention. Here’s the actual Facebook back-and-forth that we had about a new “pants” expression that Marcy used:

Marcy: Jessica Chastain played the blonde heroine of the Help (not the snotty pants [role]). 🙂
Dan: I love the idea of a “snotty pants” role. It’s just intuitively understandable. We had a security guy at school we called “Mr. Grouchy Pants.” Because he was. 

Marcy: Yes, funny to think about now that you mention – “I’d like to audition for the Snotty pants role, please?” :)

Dan: I see it as a role type, kinda like an ingenue role or a best buddy role. “She was best know for playing Snotty Pants roles in a variety of films that spanned decades…”

A few days later, this series:

Dan: Look, Marcy, it’s Miss Snotty Pants’ sister! She has written a book! 


Marcy: GREAT book, by the way! 🙂 LOVE Tina Fey!

Then, recently I found this passage in an article about a change in editorial leadership at the New Yorker magazine:

In the 1960s, [humorist]Dorothy Parker criticized the magazine’s utter lack of humor, and [William] Shawn himself later expressed some regret that he hadn’t had many humorists on staff, but in 1975, New York Times book critic John Leonard said, “Shawn changed The New Yorker from a smarty-pants parish tip sheet into a journal that altered our experience instead of just posturing in front of it.”
Of course, we’re all familiar with the smarty pants appellation which I’ve been called a time or two myself (justly, I might add). There is also prissy pants which perhaps was heard most famously in a South Park episode (Biscuit City Advisory: If you are offended at all by tasteless and vulgar humor DO NOT check out South Park. I do not watch the thing: I just heard about “Polly Prissypants.”) when Cartman was playing with his dolls, including Polly Prissypants. Prissy means exaggeratedly proper, excessively fastidious and easily disgusted so apply that to “pants” and there you have it. 
If anyone knows of any other “pants” expressions please comment on Facebook or on this post. And congratulations to Marcy for a great new addition to popular culture. 

Who Knew? EZ Pass, i Phones and Automatic Backup

OK, so I’m not an Early Adopter when it comes to technology. We still have VCR’s and had the original NuTone intercom/radio that came with the house in 1967 when it was built, right up until we remodeled the kitchen about three years ago. So we just got EZ Passes for the cars. Incredible! When we drove to New Jersey to catch the Jersey Transit to Manhattan, we used the pass for tolls. Worked like a charm and saved us probably 15 minutes in travel time. We don’t use toll roads much but when we do, it’s EZ Pass all the way. Who knew?

And then daughter Amy’s bf Chris #2 (Macgee) gave me his iPhone 3 when he upgraded to a 4. It’s an incredible piece of technology and came in very handy when we were in New York for determining things like which way to go when we came out of the subway and the location of nearby restaurants. I can also check email on texts on the fly. Who knew these things were so useful?

And then there is my newest friend, Automatic Backup. Blogspot, which I’m using this very second, backs up my work every a couple of minutes or so. This has saved me hours of work when the power goes off or I hit an unknown combination of keys and lock the computer up or clear the post I’m working on. Who knew how useful this was?


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