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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