Monthly Archives: August 2013

A Biscuit City Special Edition: In Honor and Memory of Seamus Heaney, 1939 -2013

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My small tribute to an incredible poet:

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Playing at the Park


Well, as promised, over 540 handbell musicians played the National Anthem before  the August 29 game between the Nats and Marlins (Nats won, 9-0!). It was an incredible experience for all of us, including ringers from our church handbell group, Evensong Bells. We got to First Baptist Church in Alexandria about noon, rehearsed indoors, rehearsed in the parking lot, and then boarded buses and vans and trucks (oh my) for the trip to Nationals Park. Wrangling that many handbell players was quite a logistical challenge, to say nothing of managing 50 sets of handbells. We got to the park about 4, did a “sound check,” got something to eat, and then started moving to the warning track about 6:00 to play at 6:54. We were divided into colors and rows to make moving and lineup easier (we were in group Lime Two). All in all, it went as smoothly as it could, and I thought the finished product sounded better than I believed it would. I hope you enjoy this video shot by someone in the stands!

Over 500 Handbell Players from the Handbell Musicians of America Play the National Anthem at Nationals Park, Washington D.C. on August 29, 2013


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Take Us All Out to the Ball Game


I have been a part of my church’s adult handbell ensemble, Evensong Bells, for about twenty years or so. I like playing bells–it’s a challenge, and people who hear us play seem to enjoy the experience. Generally we play for church services and bell festivals, although we have played for a wedding or two as well. Sometimes people ask us why we don’t smile when we play. Our answer is “Because it’s hard.” And it is, but it’s also fun.

Tomorrow evening, some of us in the group are going to play in a unique venue–Nationals Stadium in Washington. Handbell Musicians  of America has organized 542 players into a massed ringing choir which will play the National Anthem before the Nats-Marlins game at 7:05. We gather at a church in Alexandria to rehearse for a final time at 1 PM  (and believe me, we have been rehearsing. We’re playing this from memory.), take buses to the stadium, and line up on the warning track five deep and 300 feet across. The logistics of this event are mind-boggling, and we’re told that we will be the largest bell group to do this–in the world.

Major League Baseball does not televise the National Anthem before games except for the World Series, but we should be up on You Tube very shortly. If you listen to the game on WFAN-FM, 106.7, Charlie and Dave (the announcers), always feature the anthem and comment on it. This is such an unusual version of it, I’m sure they will have something to say. If you do hear it, please let me know what they thought of it. I actually prefer listening to the game and find these fellows to be knowledgeable and humorous. Whenever one of them spells the name of a player, the technician in the studio makes the sound of an old-fashioned teacher’s bell. I’ve learned to wait for it.

If you are at the game, I’m playing Eb4 and F4. Look for me among 541 of my closest bell-playing friends.

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Old School Baseball


Civil War baseball reenactors in action. Honest. The batsman has just started for first after striking the ball fair. Run, Homer, run!

This past weekend, I went to some of the events that were part of the Civil War Weekend here in Manassas, which was staged to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Second Battle of Manassas (Bull Run). There were reenactors, musicians, General Lee, speakers, authors, and a demonstration of CIvil War baseball, which, contrary to popular belief, was not invented by Abner Doubleday, a general in that war, who did codify some of the rules.

Baseball as we know it probably came from a British game called “town ball” (thank heavens we didn’t get a version of cricket. You think a baseball game is long and tedious–try going to a cricket match. Take your lunch…and your dinner…you’ll need both!)

Civil War baseball is played on the familiar field with the same number of players at their positions. However, the ball is slightly larger than its present-day counterpart, and the players don’t use gloves. The pitcher throws underhanded, and the umpire, dressed in a suit and top hat, stands to one side about ten feet away from the batter. The catcher wears no protective gear, which explains why so many were nicknamed “Gappy.” (I made that up.)

The picture is one I took of the action. The batsman had just hit the ball and is taking his base while the umpire looks on and the catcher looks for his missing teeth.




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Friday Poem of the Week: Ode, Intimations of Mortality at Wal*Mart

Pushing my shopping basket like some sort of consumer battering ram,
I am cruising the produce aisles at the local Wal*Mart Grocery Center,
Alert for bargains but, more than that, alert for other pushers of other carts
Who might do me harm. Don’t laugh: one of those things can wreak havoc on an unsuspecting shopper
When it climbs up on your Achilles tendon or smashes into your vulnerable rib cage.

I once had a runaway cart take out a taillight. That was an expensive trip to the grocery store.
I figure I’m safe in the produce aisle from the worst of the kamikaze shoppers
But I will have to make a break for the checkout soon. I watch for a break in the flow
Of other shoppers and, seeing one, accelerate into the open space
Right behind two citizens pushing a giant cart laden with all manner of junk foods
Procured from further back in the store, hard by the doughnuts and giant bags of candy.

They are, to put it kindly, on the large side, and as we creep along like ancient glaciers
I find myself wondering about their life expectancy, with that much extra avoirdupois and more to come.
Their lives will not doubt be shortened by what they eat, and, judging from an occasional hacking cough from first one and then the other,
They must be smokers as well. Their slow pace tells me their lives are trifectas of poor nutrition, lack of exercise and destructive habits.

We’re all ships passing each other in tiled channels. Coming toward me, a couple about my age, sails along, trim and fit-looking, but also with anxiety written on their faces, wondering if they’re in the right place.
I want to shout at them “Run! Turn and run while you still can! There is still hope for you!” but I don’t, only continue on my slow way along.

Next in line, a mamacita with a brood of chattering ninos. I wonder what their lives will be like. Will they always be lean and small and quick or grow up to be like my friends ahead of me?

The portly couple bears off to a register, and I steer for the express checkout. So virtuous am I, with only one item, I am checked out and through the sighing pneumatic-electric doors into the neon haze of the parking lot.

I have learned much this evening, about what to do and what not to do, and wonder where all of us are headed in this giant shopping arcade of living. I remind myself that I need to eat right, exercise regularly, give up unhealthy habits.

And, by God, I’m going to do it, starting


–Dan Verner

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Mystery Object

We were at the Prince William County Fair last week, taking our usual turn through the exhibits and displays, when we came up this object among the display of old farm implements. I had never seen anything like it, and first surmised it was a kind of two-person butter churn, with one person on each handle on either side. But it didn’t look like a butter churn, and so, curious about what it was, I posted the picture on Facebook, asking my FB friends if anyone could identify it. Two of them could: it’s a manually operated clothes washer. The clothes go in through the lid, water is added, and more than likely, a plunger is inserted through the hole in the top to agitate the clothes. It’s a sight better than beating your laundry on river rocks!

It struck me that this was an ingenious way to at least bring some degree of mechanization to the clothes washing process. I don’t know how well it worked–maybe not so well because you don’t see that many of these (or at least I haven’t–maybe habitees of antique shops and shows are familiar with them). I had heard of washing machines powered by gasoline (my father’s family had one) and kerosene. If you don’t have electricity, it’s an ingenious solution, made right at home.

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A Very Literary Weekend


This is neither Linda Johnston nor Bob Wilson, but J. K. Rowling, but it illustrates the idea of a book signing.

This past weekend, I was privileged to go to not one but two book signings, both for books by people I know. What a treat! The sort of cultural events we go to tend to be of the musical kind, and I love music, but I am at heart a reader and a writer, of sorts.

Linda Johnston released her first book, Hope Amid Hardship,  a lovely collection of pioneer diaries from Kansas between the years 1850 and 1855, and, what is more, illustrated the entries with charming watercolors in the style of pioneer painting. Hers is a jewel of a book, and one that will appeal to anyone with an aesthetic and historical interest and sensibility. Congratulations to Linda and thanks to her for sharing this labor of love with all of us!

Bob Wilson’s book signing took place Sunday afternoon after he addressed an overflow crowd about his work, Matthew Brady–Portraits of a Nation. Bob’s credentials are impressive: he is the editor of The  American Scholar (the magazine of Phi Beta Kappa) and has written for other distinguished publications. Bob’s aim in the book, as he shared with the audience, was to address for his readers and for himself, a number of misconceptions about the best-known photographer of the Civil War. Matthew Brady promises to be an intriguing, well-researched and well-crafted read. Congratulations to Bob for this important contribution to our understanding of an influential period in our history!

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