Monthly Archives: March 2013

An Announcement and Friday Poem of the Week: “Seven Stanzas at Easter” by John Updike


First, the announcement: it’s spring break time for the Biscuit City crew, so Molly, Nancy, the Harrisons and B. Russell will be taking off for undisclosed locations. With budget cutbacks there will be no use of the Biscuit CIty Spa and Resort. That’s for paying customers, Molly says, and we believe her. We’ll be back with a post on April 8.

And now this poem:

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

John Updike, 1960.

A  happy and blessed Easter to all you Faithful Readers!

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Review of From These Ashes by Tamela J. Ritter

From These Ashes Cover Edited

(Cover image used with the kind permission of Tamela J. Ritter)

My initial impressions of books are often wrong. As I started reading this first novel by Haymarket resident Tamela Ritter, which details the story of Naomi and Tim West, brother and sister who live with a dysfunctional and abusive mother on an Indian reservation in Montana, I thought, “This is an engaging read.” The more I read the more I realized I was wrong. This tale of suffering, separation, redemption and healing is not just engaging—it is riveting.
Naomi tells her part of the story in a flashback memoir, interspersed with her brother’s adventures told in third person. Naomi is a kind of Scout Finch but without the benevolent presence of Atticus. Her alcoholic mother brings home a series of “uncles,” and alternately abuses and coddles Naomi and Tim, who rely on each other for comfort. Naomi delivers arresting lines in the course of telling her story. One chapter begins, “The first time my mother tried to kill me, I was six.” Of her mother’s frequent trips to the local bar, she says at one point when she needs her help, “All my parental guidance was in the saloon, so I figured I’d better stay (there).”
Later on, when she is introduced to her mother’s husband, she is less than convinced that he will be different from the other men she has showed up with and says, “Larry, no offense, but we’ve heard this before.”
Larry replies, “Uh-huh, your mama told me you were a pistol.”
“I rolled my eyes, wishing I had a pistol.”
Tim’s part of the novel involves his search for a true home. Since he is half Indian, he is bullied by the boys on the “rez” and learns independence and tenacity as he goes on a difficult pilgrimage, wandering like a latter-day Huck Finn without a Jim. He is the “wounded healer” of the novel who finally reaches and creates a home for himself, his sister and his grandfather.
The episodic nature of the story functions as a kind of jigsaw puzzle in which the meaning of each bit is gradually revealed by its relationship to the other parts. It is realistic, at times brutal, at times wistful, but always effective as it moves between the worlds of dysfunction and a vision of an ideal existence. Without giving too much away, the three main characters arrive at an understanding that an ideal existence for them is the most real of all possible worlds.
Tamela Ritter has written an important and touching book. It deserves reading by a wide audience, and I hope it will find that audience.

(Check out Manassas Patch for Cindy Brookshire’s article on Tamela’s release party:

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Bad Kitties

OK, so the kitty in question didn't look at all like this. But I could have been seriously injured.

OK, so the kitty in question didn’t look at all like this. But I could have been seriously injured.

We have always, as I have observed in the past, had a cat or two around the house. We like cats. I’ve also written about Nacho, “my” cat, who is a good writerly cat and the staff cat of Biscuit City Enterprises. Our other current cat is Tuxedo, Becky’s cat, who I also call “Scabby’ or “Scratchy” since she apparently itches and creates places on herself where she scratches.

We’ve tried about everything the vets can think of to help the poor cat, but she still keeps on scratching. The last thing the vet suggested was to give her some Benadryl. This is done, theoretically, by filling a syringe (without a needle) with Benadryl and quickly injecting it into the cat’s mouth.

I have the most experience doing this sort of thing,so I did the first dose and felt like I had gone ten rounds with a gorilla. To say that Tuxedo did not want any part of being medicated is probably the understatement of the year. She fought me, spraying Bendryl all over herself, me and the kitchen floor. She then ran around for about fifteen minutes acting as if she were choking. It was quite a show.

For the next dose, I enlisted Becky’s to hold Scratchy. We wrapped in a towel but we couldn’t wrap her mouth since the med needed to go there (duh). She again resisted mightily and in snapping at the syringe, nailed me on the little finger.

I don’t know if you have ever been bitten by a cat, but if you have, you do know it is an unpleasant experience. Cats’ bites are the worst (humans are second) because of all the foul bacteria that inhabit their mouths. I was bitten by a cat we were trying to take in a couple of years ago about 8 PM on a Saturday night: twelve hours later, the bite was infected, swollen and horribly painful. I sang in choir that morning and then hied myself to the hospital where they gave me an antibiotic shot and a round of pills. I have since heard of people who have had to be hospitalized and given antibiotic IV’s. No, thanks.

So, I learned my lesson with cat bite #1. I saw the doctor a couple of hours later and got a course of antibiotics to take. This bite swelled right away, became numb at the tip of my finger and tingled the length of the digit. I could tell it was headed toward painful so I was glad to see the doctor quickly. He said it was a good thing that I came into see him. I agreed.

So, Tuxedo is still itchy, but I’m out of the cat medication by mouth biz. Bite me once, shame on the cat. Bite me twice, shame on me!


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Friday Poem of the Week: The Cats Are at Work

There are thousands of cat at computer pictures on line. What are you people doing all day? Why aren't you filling out your brackets?

There are thousands of cat at computer pictures on line. What are you people doing all day? Why aren’t you filling out your brackets?

The Cats Are at Work

a follow-on poem to “The Cats Are Driving to Work”

for Alyssa, who liked the original poem

The cats are at work.
They pull into their reserved spaces
Growling from a long commute
Slouching toward the entrance in that peculiar feline way,
Not speaking (they’re cats, after all),
Flashing their ID’s at the tiger behind the security desk.
They settle into their little chairs at their little desks with a sigh.
No purring at work: it’s not forbidden,
It’s a simple reality. Work is not purr worthy.
They ply their trade, international security,
These cats, guarding their humans sleeping at home
From cyber threats and depredations
Perpetrated by bears and panda who want to
Steal all the catnip.

The HR cats have it the hardest:
They explain once again to the testy but talented
Siamese from accounting
That medical insurance does not cover an eyelid lift
And that HR is not there to protect her interests
But those of the company.
It’s a startling revelation repeated over and over to the
Cat employees. They’re not stupid,
Just hopeful that if they ask the same question enough times
They will receive a different answer.

Interview over, HR cat pops another Xanax,
Takes a quick lap from her milk mug,
And wonders if there’s fish for lunch in the cafeteria
And not nasty dried cat food. Again.
She sighs, calculates how long it is until nap time
And quietly hopes for a mouse to scurry by.
And so, day after day,
The cats are at work.

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The Kids Are All Right, Part 3

Students in a Robotic Competition, Somewhere. They look like middle school kids.

Students in a robotic competition, somewhere. They look like middle school kids.

I heard on the radio this weekend that ten middle school teams from Prince William County (where the City of Manassas and the Biscuit City studios are located) are traveling to California to compete in the VEX World Tournament of robotics.

I don’t know if you know anything about the world of student robotics, but basically students build robots to tackle a predetermined challenge and try to score as many points as possible. They learn problem-solving and teamwork in a hands-on manner.

Last week, 64 teams competed at “Roboticon” in Prince William County in which VEX teams from Prince William, the Cities of Manassas and Manassas Park, as well as private schools and home school students competed against each other.

“Roboticon is a middle school competition almost like the superbowl of robotics,” says Denyse Carroll, the regional STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education coordinator for Prince William and Manassas.

Two teams from Rippon Middle School, three teams from Bull Run Middle and one team from Stonewall Middle School, two from Manassas Christian School, one from Manassas Park Middle School and one from Marsteller Middle School will compete in California.

And get this–according to Carrol, there are are 250 middle school teams in the entire state of Virginia of which 168 are from the Prince William County area.

I think about our crude efforts to get all electronic in middle school, in a world of tubes and clumsily joined wires. We got about as far as crystal sets and that was about it. I still want to learn to solder (my daughter gave me a how-to-solder kit for Christmas a couple of years ago. I need to bust it out and figure out how to do it. I also would like to learn how to weld, which my nephew has offered to teach me.)

Radio was the big deal when I was a lad, and I actually had a show on our five-watt campus radio station my freshman year. But that’s another story for another time.

Who knows what we would have done if we had had computers and the internet. Harmed ourselves and others, I suppose.

But the tremendous involvement and achievements of local kids in robotics goes to show that they’re not out stealing hubcaps (if kids still do that). They’re learning something that will make the future better for all of us. And for that reason, the kids are all right.

(Facts and quotes liberally borrowed from a WTOP-FM account.)

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Picture Pages


I had been reading some other blogs lately and noticed that they have pictures. Lots of pictures. Even my daughter Alyssa’s Shame Squad blog (address is has some fabulous pictures (and hilarity and recipes). With my background in essay writing, I tend to write. A lot. A friend of mine who reads a lot of blogs told me mine was usual in terms of the amount I wrote. She also said some other nice things about Biscuit City, but it would be self-serving to print them here.

I didn’t have pictures in my blog for a long time, except for the trademark picture of a biscuit on the title page. My posts were all words. I can’t figure out how to put a picture of a biscuit on this blog since I am using Word Press now, so the “cover art” is a nice picture of books. I like books. No, I love books. Then I have a picture related to the post. Please note the pretty cool picture of lightning above. Lightning is pretty cool except if you get struck by it, in which case it is pretty hot. And shocking. Ouch.

Anyhow, in line with more pictures in my posts, and fewer words (too late for that with this post), here’s a really cute kitty picture:Image

Isn’t that precious? We all know the internet was created so people could post really cute pictures of kitties. I love kitties and cats. I know everyone does not love cats, but we are cat people and have always had one or two in the house since we started housekeeping. Currently we have Nacho, “my” dilute tortie, and Tuxedo, Becky’s tuxedo cat. They are endlessly amusing and impress me with their ability to sleep most of the day and to ask for food at inconvenient times (.e.g, when I’m sleeping). Wacky cats! Get off the table! Stop fighting! Both of them are afraid of mice, which raises the question of how useful they are. They’re too old to be cute (Nacho is ten, a “senior cat,” and Tuxedo about six or so) and as I said mostly lie around so I guess they would best be described as “decorative.” Yes, that’s a good word to describe our cats.

I also love books, but there’s a picture of some books in the cover picture. And I like music and airplanes, so here’s a picture of some of each for you. Enjoy!


(This is a picture of a J-3 Piper Cub, a little later model of the Piper J-2 the hero of my novel, On the Wings of Morning, learned to fly on. <— Shameless plug, which is the best kind.)


(This is not a picture of actual music I have sung in the Manassas Chorale or the Chorale Ensemble or the Sanctuary Choir at our church or played in Evensong Bells, our adult handbell group. It’s generic, but I think you get the idea.)

I hope you have enjoyed these words and pictures today. Have a great day, look at some pictures of cute kitties and cool airplanes, read a book, and sing some music! You’ll enjoy all of them!

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Friday Poem of the Week: On Seeing Some People Removing the Possessions of Their Relative from the Assisted Living Home

Packing boxes

On Seeing Some People Removing the Possessions of Their Relative from the Assisted Living Home

Who are these forms bending low
Over carts stacked with
Boxed and baled possessions
Of mother, father, aunt, uncle, brother, cousin, in-law,
Secured by cord,
Their downcast faces
Blank as the asphalt?
A life reduced to a few small things
Piled for removal
A ceremony as sure as a funeral
A life remembered
By a few and
Without notice.

–Dan Verner


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Tallkin’ Baseball

Washington Senators
Washington Senators

I have been a baseball fan ever since I can remember. Now, I know that a lot people think baseball is about as fascinating as watching paint dry, but I find the complexity and nuances of the game intriguing. The beauty and grace of a double play, the power and excitement of a home run, the control and finesse of a good pitcher, the strategies and tactics of managers are all parts of the baseball. There’s a lot of history to the game as well, and much of it parallels the social and cultural development of this country as Ken Burns showed so well in his nine-part series on the subject.

Being a baseball fan in this area meant suffering with the Washington Senators who decamped not once but twice, to Minneapolis and Texas before we were left without a team for decades. The Senators were lovable but they weren’t very good even with sluggers like Frank Howard and Harmon Killebrew and Cuban pitchers like Camilo Pasquel and Pete Ramos. I think Fidel Castro even tried out for a Senators farm team in the ‘50’s. Too bad he didn’t make it. Still, I have fond memories of lying in bed listening to games on an AM radio with static from distant thunderstorms crackling in the background. I saw one game in person at the old Griffith Stadium, an oddly-shaped little ballpark wedged in among the maze of streets near Howard University. The Senators lost that night, as they did the two games I saw at RFK Stadium.

Players then were not the highly paid superstars they are now. Most of them worked other jobs during the offseason. They were accessible, moving among us like mere mortals. When my minor league team won our division (with little help from me), our coaches treated us to a banquet. The guest was Jim Lemon of the Senators who talked to us and signed autographs. I can’t imagine many of today’s players spending time with a so-so Little League team. And now, of course, even a .200 hitter can command a salary in the millions.

Since I loved the game so much, I had every intention of becoming a major league player. Unfortunately, I had neither the coordination nor the talent to make it beyond apex of my career as a twelve-year-old in the Little League minors. I was tall for my age (six feet) but weighed about a hundred pounds. I also had a basic problem of being afraid of the ball. This made perfect sense to me since a batted or thrown ball really hurt when it hit me. Trying to snag hard-hit balls while dancing out of the way did not make me a great shortstop and I turned to other matters, mostly books. I had never heard of anyone being hurt by a thrown book, although I have had several fall on me, but they don’t hurt like a baseball.

It has been a delight to have the Nationals come to town and a double delight last year when they made the playoffs. They were eliminated in a heartbreaking fashion, but as someone once said, “Baseball will break your heart.” But it also gladdens and uplifts the heart and I for one can’t wait for the season to start. Go, Nats!

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March 13, 2013 · 1:09 pm

Once More, with Feeling: Voices United Concert 2013

The Chorale at the Hylton for another concert. Don't we clean up good? There'll be about thirty more of us!

Chorale at the Hylton for another concert. Don’t we clean up good? There’ll be about thirty more of us!

This next Saturday evening at 7:30 I hope you’ll join me and a hundred and twenty or so of my most musical friends as the Manassas Chorale and the Voices United 2013 Choir present a varied program of sacred and inspiring choral literature ranging from Handel to spirituals and gospel songs and back again.

The VU 2013 Choir, as we like to call it, draws from about thirty musical choirs and groups and will be under the direction of Pepper Choplin, an American composer and director, who will conduct the Choir during the second half of the program. Participants in the choir have attended several rehearsals and an all-day workshop with Pepper during the day on Saturday.

Tickets are available at the Hylton Center for the Performing Arts box office (on the Prince William campus of George Mason University). For more information, check out this link or visit the Chorale’s event notice on the Hylton site

Here’s a list of what we’ll be singing, along with some comments. (Please remember I was a literature major, not a music major.)

“God of Our Fathers”: a rousing anthem arrangement of the hymn by Mack Wiburg of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. This one will lift you out of your seat!
“To God Be the Glory”: Arranged by Pepper Choplin, this piece presents a refreshing take on the old hymn.
“A Covenant Prayer”: New composer Dan Forrest does a lovely and inspiring setting of words by John Wesley.
“You Raise Me Up:” American composer Joseph Martin has here a powerful SATB version of the song made popular by Selah and Josh Groban.
“All Things Bright and Beautiful”: This arrangement shows John Rutter,The dean of British choral music at his best. Just lovely.
“Worthy Is the Lamb” and “Amen” from Messiah : Handel rocks!
“Tune My Heart:” arranged by Glenn A. Pickett sets “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” in an Appalachian mode.
“Prayer of St. Francis:” American composer Allen Pote’s arrangement of the poem by St. Francis of Assisi is a fresh take on an old text.
“Lay Up Your Treasures in Heaven:” Pepper Choplin indulges in a gospel style for this work. A lot of fun.
“This Is My Song:” This arrangement by Douglas E. Wagner, based on “Finlandia” by Jean Sibelius, uses the words of an old hymn for a fortuitous wedding of text and music.
“For the Beauty of the Earth:” Arranged by John Rutter. Ah, yes.
“Create in Me:” The words and music to this Voices United song were written by Manassas resident Kimberley Hill, who has also sung with the
Manassas Chorale. “Create in Me” is Kim’s third published
piece through Shawnee Press/Hal Leonard Corporation.)
“River in Judea”” A text by Jack Feldman, arranged by John Leavitt, provides a rich and spiritual musical experience.
“I’m Going Home:” Pepper Choplin evokes shape-note singing and the Sacred Harp songbook (1844) with this resonant anthem.
“One World:” This original composition by American composer Mark Hayes is both stirring and inspiring with its heartfelt wish for peace and unity.

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Poem of the Week: For My Student, Upon Her Rejection of My “Easy Praise”

Student Writing

For My Student, Upon Her Rejection of My “Easy Praise”
(a creative writing student who went on to become a successful writer and novelist)

Forgive me when I say
You do not know what you are talking about.
I who have trekked the high parched deserts of indifferent expression
And labored through low tedious swamps of lack of intent
Know what it means to stand on the pinnacle of a high mountain
In clear air and fresh wind
To hold the fragile moment of the first light of day
Dawning on the distant horizon
And know that it is good.

And so, though my praise be twenty times too much
For you and your work,
I promise you this, my young writer:
It is still apt and it is still true.

–Dan Verner


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