Monthly Archives: September 2012

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Technology and Society: Top Ten Movies

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

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

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

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

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

8. Man with a Movie Camera Duh.

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

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

5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans Huh?

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

3. Tokyo Story Missed this one.

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

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

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

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Friday–Food and Shopping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here are…


Merchant’s Square – Duke of Gloucester St.
Bruton Parish Gift Shop – religious jewelry, plaques, gifts, Christmas ornaments
Barnes and Noble(W & M bookstore) – upstairs cafe, good CD selection, gifts, books, cards, everything W & M
Trellis Restaurant– moderate at lunch, expensive at dinner.  Good sandwiches & soups, “Death by  Chocolate” (1 serving serves 2-3 people)
Christmas Shop– ornaments, collectibles
Toymaker – neat toy store, adult collectibles in glass case to left of cash register, nesting dolls
Craft House – Byers Carolers (downstairs), moderate Williamsburgfood & collectibles, expensive jewelry, china, needlepoint, beautiful home furnishings                     
Wythe Candy Shop – for your sweet tooth!  Great homemade fudge and almond clusters
King’s Treasure – souvenirs, good costume jewelry in case at back, linen towels, John Deere, brass
Quilts Unlimited(Henry St.) – beautiful handmade items
The Cheese Shop – WONDERFUL sandwiches (Smithfield Ham, French bread, their sauce), great cheeses (gouda), gourmet salads, wines downstairs, patio dining if it’s warm enough
Williamsburg Stores – connected with the Colonial capitol.  Beautiful home furnishings.
Restored historic area has several stores/shops – baskets, scented soaps, tri-cornered hats, plants
Prince George St. – one block behind Duke of Gloucester St.
Campus Shop – W & M sweats and tees
Aromas – good coffee, snacks, sandwiches
North Henry St. – Everything Williamsburg- true to its name – gifts for kids and adults
Celebrations – near Seasons Restaurant – has great collectibles, W’burg buildings and Byers carolers
Trellis and The Cheese Shop – see above    
Colonial Taverns in Restored area are great! Make reservations! Chownings (Brunswick Stew) in person.
Pierces Pitt Barbeque – don’t miss it!  Take a pint or quart home (A+ onion rings). Go out Route 60 West, turn right on Airport Rd., left on Rochambeau to restaurant.  Near Exit 234 – left out of parking lot if headed to Manassas.  You can also get there by following Rochambeau for several miles from near Exit 238.
La Yaca – French – recommended to BV
Old Chickahominy House– breakfast & lunch/3 floors of gifts – Jamestown Rd.   Smithfield Ham on square biscuits, homemade pies, Brunswick stew.  You can call ahead for reservations.
Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Cracker Barrel – good! 
Prime Outlets – Seiko, Royal Doulton, Van Heusen, Nine West, 100+ shops
Outlet Mall – Dress Barn, Leggs/Lingerie, Totes, Vanity Fair, Dress Barn, The Bottom Line, a Shop with Team Sports apparel
New Town – a whole new section of the ‘Burg.  Martin’s (formerly Ukrop’s) Grocery store has a wonderful bakery (chocolate pie!) and great crab cakes.  Make it one of your last stops.  Partlett’s Cards and Gifts is also
in New Town.  Ask a local for directions.

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Weekend Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

–Beth Markley

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Advice for Writers: Some Short Takes

Be Patient

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

A Good Story Is A Dirty Secret

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

Writing Is A Kind of Double Living

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

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Technology and Society Wednesday: The Disappearance of Music

OK, at least I didn’t title this “The Day the Music Died.”

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

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

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

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

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

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Customer Service

Actual phone conversations with customer service:
Me: The trash people didn’t put the lid back on my garbage can and the lid blew away.
Nice Lady from the Trash Company: Can you identify it?
Me: Well, it’s green and rectangular, about 18 inches by 24 inches and it fits on top of my trash can.
Nice Lady: I mean, did you have your name on it?
Me: No.  How about my initials?
Nice Lady:That would help.  Or your address.
Me: I didn’t have either.
Nice Lady: I’m sorry.  Without some sort of identification there’s not much we can do.
Me: Do you have any extra can lids lying around?
Nice Lady: No, we don’t pick those up.
Me: I thought your business was picking up.
Nice Lady:Ha ha.
Me: Maybe I can microchip it.
Nice Lady:That would work, too.
Automated Phone Company Voice: If you are calling to report a phone out of service, press or say “1.”
Me: “1.”
Automated Phone Company Voice: If you are calling from the phone that is not working, press or say “1.”
Automated Phone Company Voice: If you are calling from a phone other than the phone that is not working, press or say “2.”
Me: Duh.
Automated Phone Company Voice: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you.
Me: All right, “2” then.
Automated Phone Company Voice: I’m sorry.  I’m having trouble understanding you.  Let me transfer you to a customer service representative.
Me: Yay!
Representative from a big Online Company Whose Name Is the Same as a Major River in South America:So you didn’t order this merchandise?
Me: No, from the information you sent me, it was ordered under a different email address and sent to a different shipping address. Neither was mine.
Representative:  Are you sure you don’t use that email address or shipping address?
Me: Let me check. (One microsecond elapses.)  Yes, I’m sure.
Representative:Did you receive the merchandise?
Me: No.  And I didn’t order it, either.
Representative:It didn’t come to the place that you live.
Me: No, it went to some place where I don’t live.
Representative:I see.  So someone else ordered it.  Do you know the person who ordered it?
Health Insurance Agent: We didn’t pay this claim because it had the wrong date on it.
Me: OK.
Health Insurance Agent: You need to call the hospital and get them to correct the date.
Me: How about if I tell you the correct date?
Health Insurance Agent: I’m sorry, it has to be the hospital
Me: But I was there.
Health Insurance Agent: I’m sorry.
(A phone call later)
Hospital Representative: We sent the correct date to the insurance company.
Me: They say they got another date.
Hospital Representative: I don’t know how that happened.
Me: I don’t either.  Can you call them and tell them the correct date?
Hospital Representative: We already did.
Me: They say you didn’t.
Hospital Representative:
Me: Maybe we can settle this with a duel.
Hospital Representative: I think that’s illegal.
Me:  Too bad.


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Passing It On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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