Sunday, December 30, 2007

After one has listened to Darlene Edwards (not to mention Jonathan)...

one is well-advised to return to sanity and the normal world gradually to prevent damage to one's cerebral cortex. Therefore, since tomorrow is New Year's Eve and 2007 will soon be replaced by 2008, we have just the thing. We shall accomplish our return, our decompression, as it were, by way of our very own A Festival Of Auld Lang Syne Performances.

The first performance will be on the musical saw with accordion accompaniment (I said we must do this gradually), plus there is a bit of the human voice. Experiencing this particular performance is eerily reminiscent of listening to Darlene Edwards herself, but it will begin to accomplish our ends. When the voice enters (which I believe is female, but I may be wrong), we are actually able to forget Darlene for a time by concentrating instead on what seems to be a very poor imitation of the young Bob Dylan from a time when Bob's lyrics were still comprehensible. Here, then, from 2006, is the androgynous Nicki Jaine on both the saw and the vocal, accompanied by Roy Ashley on accordion, with Auld Lang Syne #1.

Next, class, we travel through both time and space to Detroit in the year 1987 to hear the young Aretha Franklin and Billy Preston sing a Motown version of our festival theme, Auld Lang Syne #2. Inexplicably, there is a brief appearance by comedian David Brenner at the end of the performance.

As we continue to mellow and chill and let the old year slip away, who better than saxophonist Kenny G to put us in the proper mood? Here is the third rung on our decompression ladder, Auld Lang Syne #3. You may skip this step only if you majored in jazz saxophone in college and consider Kenny G as having sold out for commercial success.

And now for our final performance of the Festival. After listening to dozens of possibilities, we decided against subjecting you to Barbra Streisand's turn-of-the-millenium Las Vegas concert rendition and settled instead upon what we believe is a fitting close to the Festival. Here are the Alexandria Harmonizers, the 2003 medal winners of the International Chorus Singing Contest at the SPEBSQSA Convention in Montreal, Canada, singing Auld Lang Syne #4!

The Festival has now come to an end. It has done its work and our decompression is complete. You may now return to your normal lives, where you are free to choose any kind of music that helps you get through your day.

-----------------------------------------

Note:
1. Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America

I'm thinking if you liked Anna Russell...

you're probably going to love Jonathan and Darlene Edwards, a husband-and-wife team who recorded five albums over the years at the urging of their mentors, the great Paul Weston and Jo Stafford. Jonathan (Paul) plays a mean piano and Darlene (Jo) has never been in better voice. Upon winning a grammy they were astounded to learn it was for comedy, not their musical artistry. Well, thanks once again to YouTube, here is a real end-of-the-year treat. I give you the incomparable, the often imitated but never duplicated, the unbelievable (have your earplugs at the ready) Jonathan and Darlene Edwards!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Anna Russell sings again!

Back in the day, one of my favorite comedic albums was "Anna Russell Sings." I was dumb enough to give my copy to a friend thirty years ago, and I have been sorry ever since. Miss Russell, whose act had to be heard to be believed, died at the age of 94 a couple of years ago. Today, with only three days remaining before the Year of Our Lord 2007 also fades into history, I discovered her on YouTube singing that old favorite, "Canto dolciamente pippo" from the opera "La Cantatrice Squealante" by the Italian composer, Michelangelo Occupinti. Then she launched into its polar opposite, "I Gave You My Heart And You Made Me Miserable."

Anna Russell, the Victor Borge of the operatic world, deserves to be heard and laughed at and adored by a new generation of music lovers. So settle back, close your eyes, and pretend you are in the concert hall. Ladies and gentlemen, here, once again, for your listening pleasure (remember to turn up your volume), is the one, the only, Anna Russell.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The celebration continues

We spent Christmas Eve at Elijah's and Noah's house after they returned from a candlelight church service. We dined on scrumptious stuff their mother had spread out, honey-glazed ham and turkey and even "beans and greens" (a Southern dish) along with Tiramasu cheesecake and the like. At eleven p.m. we drove the twelve miles home and fell into bed. On Christmas morning we returned for breakfast, which was just as amazing as the previous evening's repast. You haven't lived until you have eaten French toast that has been stuffed with a cream cheese and orange marmalade concoction and then covered with powdered sugar and Maple syrup. We oohed and ahhed at the new iPod, the new cell phone, the new laptop, the several new electronic games -- all in all, a very electronic Christmas. In early afternoon we returned to our own home and decorated our Christmas tree. Yes, you read that correctly.

On the day after Christmas, Sawyer and Sam and their parents left their home in Alabama in the afternoon and headed in our direction. About two-thirds of the way to our house we met them at a restaurant near where Matthew and Ansley live, and we were joined by them and their parents. The pre-planning committee had suggested O'Charley's, but somehow we ended up at Chili's instead. Here we had the traditional Christmas fajitas quesadillas and the cedar-planked tilapia with pico de gallo. I'm kidding about the "traditional," but that's what we had. Then we caravaned (caravanned?) with Sawyer and Sam and their parents the rest of the way to our house.

Two days after Christmas (that would be today), Elijah and Noah and Matthew and Ansley and their assorted parents are all joining the rest of us at our house, where we will finally get to have our "full family" exchange of Christmas gifts together. Oh, yes, and we'll eat even more goodies.

Such is the life of one set of happy grandparents. Christmas is certainly about more than food and family, but, hey, we're not complaining.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Il est né, le divine enfant!

Il est né, le divine enfant;
Jouez hautbois, résonnez musettes!
Il est né, le divine enfant;
Chantons tous son avènement.

or, as they say in English (and if they don't, they ought to):

He is born, the holy Child;
Play the oboes, sound the bagpipes!
He is born, the holy Child;
Let's all sing of His holy birth.

That's what Christmas is all about. Not yule logs and garlands of holly and lights in evergreen trees, which are actually ways ancient pagans in northern climes celebrated the winter solstice, beckoning the sun back from its southward journey. Christmas has nothing to do with snow and walking in a winter wonderland, either. The birth of the holy child probably didn't happen on December 25th. That date was chosen by early Christians to blend in with the Saturnalia, the celebration by the Romans of one of their gods, Saturn, and thereby escape detection. Detection by the Romans usually meant being thrown to hungry lions for the amusement of the masses or being soaked in oil and turned into human torches to light the Appian Way for the emperor. According to New Testament accounts, the shepherds were spending the night in the fields with their flocks, so the actual date of the birth was more likely in springtime, when the ewes were giving birth to lambs. Dashing through the snow in a one-horse, open sleigh may describe an old-fashioned winter in northern latitudes quite well, but the Holy Land is warm. It has palm trees. Think wise men riding on camels past oases in the desert. Not a snowflake or sleigh in sight.

And speaking of sleighs, Christmas is also not about gifts from Santa Claus, whose miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, plus Rudolph, may well cause the real St. Nicholas to spin in his grave. But gifts at least get closer to the heart of Christmas. Christmas is about the giving of a gift, one particular gift, the gift of a holy child to a lost and dying world from a God filled with love for each and every human being. God had such love for the world that He decided to do something to bridge the awful gap that had resulted from the first human disobedience (it's a long story). Here's what He did: He came Himself. He became Immanuel -- God with us -- to make restoration possible. Christmas, when the Word of God was made flesh, is about Jesus Christ, God's only-begotten Son, who became one of us to give His life a ransom for many and reconcile us to God. You can read all about it in the first couple of chapters of Matthew's gospel, Luke's gospel, and John's gospel in the New Testament.

Now that's a real reason to celebrate, maybe even by playing oboes and bagpipes!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve, trees, and the BBC

Today is Christmas Eve and we have a full day ahead of us. All the gifts have been purchased but about half of them still need to be wrapped. Jethro has an appointment to be groomed at 9:00 a.m. in Woodstock, fifteen miles away. I still have to put up the eight-foot tree and decorate it and set up the creche on the credenza in the foyer and set out the pre-lit trees on either side of the front door. Somewhere in there before the family arrives I also will be cleaning the house--vacuuming and dusting and scrubbing the kitchen floor and making the bathrooms presentable. There is a bit of a reprieve this year, though: our family get-together won't occur until Thursday, the 27th, partly because my policeman son-in-law in Alabama changed jobs this year and now his days off are Thursday and Friday.

In other years, the tree would have been up for a week or two already, but this year the time just got away from us, what with Ellie having to attend Joint Replacement Class and get lab work done and be cleared for her knee replacement surgery on January 7th. When I was a child, we never had a tree until Christmas morning and I was told that Santa brought it. Of course, it was only a three-ft. table-top tree, not the eight-foot monster I have to deal with today. Our church in Roswell is having a Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at 6:00 p.m., but we probably won't go this year. This evening we will be driving back to Woodstock to eat Christmas Eve dinner with my son and daughter-in-law, the boys, and their other grandmother who has driven up from Florida. We've also been invited back for Christmas morning breakfast. Our oldest son is participating in our other daughter-in-law's family's activities and we'll see them on Thursday along with all the other kids and grandkids. We don't care when we see everybody; we're just glad we get to see them.

I hope Jethro's appointment doesn't interfere with what has become one of my favorite Chritmas Eve traditions, one I heartily recommend. For some years now, I have turned the radio on to the Public Broadcasting station at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on December 24th and listened to the live, worldwide broadcast by the BBC of the Christmas Eve service, A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, from the chapel of Kings College, Cambridge University, Cambridge, England, featuring their world-famous boys choir. The program always begins with a single boy soprano singing "Once In Royal David's City" a capella to start the processional and ends ninety minutes later with a resoundingly satisfying rendition of "O Come, All Ye Faithful" with full-organ accompaniment. In between are some of the most beautiful choral music pieces and virtuoso organ playing you will ever hear, interspersed with readings of Scripture having to do with the birth of Christ. Each speaker ends his segment with the words, "Thanks be to God." It is always magnificent and it never fails to inspire. A couple of years it was also televised.

If I miss the broadcast because of Jethro's grooming appointment, I'll still be there in spirit. [Update: I missed the first half-hour, but I was rewarded for my lateness with "Ding, Dong, Merrily On High, Hosanna In Excelsis."]

Saturday, December 22, 2007

How's that again?

Mentioning Hanukkah in yesterday's post brought up a sweet memory from an earlier time. "Shuma lakka," I once heard our niece say to our nephew, and he replied, "Lackum shula." Then they both laughed, thinking fondly of their grandfather, who died in 1983. It took me back. Their grandfather, who in his native land of Albania was called Dhimitri Kuçi, came to America in 1917 and lived here for over sixty-five years. But he sounded as though he had just arrived, just got off the boat. For the record, I loved hearing my wife's parents speak English; their accents were charming.

But our niece and nephew didn't understand what their grandfather had so often said to his grandchildren. Even though his accent was thick, he was a cosmopolitan guy, having owned a restaurant in Philadelphia and another business in North Carolina. He had been around the block a few times, and he didn't know a stranger. He made friends with all kinds of people. And what he had said, I tried to explain to them, were the greeting and response he had heard Jewish people say to one another in Hebrew: Shalom aleichim (peace be unto you) and Aleichim shalom (unto you be peace). Pop was not speaking gibberish. Nor was he advocating sending footwear to southeast Asia ("Shoe Malacca?") or explaining why the Miami Dolphins football team had such a dismal season ("Lackum Shula!").

But Rhonda and James weren't buying my explanation. They had heard what they had heard, and they were sticking with it. So to our niece and nephew, if you're out there in cyberspace reading this, here's a shout-out to you for old times' sake: Shuma Lakka! Shoe Malacca! (Sis! Boom! Bah!) Lackum Shula! Lackum Shula! (Rah! Rah! Rah!)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Shame on the editors of Time magazine

or at least shame on the editors of this year's special end-of-year publication called "2007: The Year In Review." The cover stared out at me from the rack next to the supermarket cash register a couple of days ago. "The events that counted," it said. "The things you'll remember." A third subheading not only stopped me in my tracks, it made my blood boil: "The people that mattered."

The idea that some people matter and others don't is odious. And its logical corollaries, that there are far more people who don't matter (the supposed nobodies buying the magazine, for example) than who do (the supposed somebodies whose pictures are in the magazine), and that it is necessary to have done something considered newsworthy enough to get one's picture in Time to "matter" are not only ridiculous, they are pathetic.

Let me tell you Time editors something. You are wrong. The nurses, doctors, schoolteachers, policemen, members of the armed forces, mommies, daddies, cafeteria workers, janitors, airline pilots, truck drivers, factory workers,--the list is endless--who will never have their faces published in your magazine matter. Every bit as much as you and your show-biz celebrity and politico friends and all the rest of the totally clueless* put together. Come to think of it, maybe more.

And just so you know, I didn't buy your magazine.

[*Note. The term "totally clueless" also applies to newspeople and talk-show hosts on television who are still saying, "Happy Hanukkah!" along with their "Merry Christmas! Happy Kwanzaa!" sign-offs on December 21 even though Hanukkah, which began this year on December 4, ended on December 11. (They do get points, I guess, for vague feelings of good will toward men.)]

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Eat, drink, and be merry! (for tomorrow we...never mind)

Last evening our neighbors Peggy and Rube (that's his real name, not short for Reuben or anything else) drove around the corner and rang our doorbell. Then the four of us set out in their white Mercury Marquis for a local "meat and three" restaurant to participate in what the sign just inside our subdivision's entrance said was Senior Night Out. For you non-Southerners, a "meat and three" is sort of like your neighborhood bar and grill without the bar, or a Greek deli without the Greeks (I'm thinking of a great Greek restaurant in Queens, New York, at this very moment), or homestyle cooking without the home, or Mom and Pop cooking without...well, you get the picture. It really defies description unless you are Southern, and then no description is necessary. The chief attraction for our group was probably portion size (large), sodium content (low), and price range (very reasonable, with a ten per cent discount for seniors). Let's just say that if haute cuisine is what you are seeking, you probably won't find it at a "meat and three." For you non-Southerners again, three is the number of vegetables you get to select from a long list to go with your meat.

Twenty people showed up, which was a pretty good turnout, I thought. Sixteen of us were seated at a long table in a room reserved for us, and the other four were at an "overflow" table in the corner. Our subdivision, which is actually two sister subdivisions built by the same developer, has around 400 houses. Most of them are owned by young couples with growing families. In our context, "Senior" means basically that you are no longer young and your family is no longer growing through any efforts of your own. Our baby will be forty next month and Peggy said theirs was fifty-one, so the four of us qualified. We sat next to folks we hadn't met previously, and proceeded to get to know them better. Twenty out of 400 may not sound like a good turnout to you, but twenty out of whatever portion of that number are seniors (and I'm not sure what that figure is) seemed very respectable.

The seating in the restaurant may not have been upper class, but the seating in Rube's car definitely was. Let me explain. Ellie sat in the front seat with Rube, and I sat in the back seat with Peggy. We fell into this seating arrangement more or less naturally; Peggy was aware that knee problems prevent Ellie from climbing easily into the back seat of a car and graciously took the back seat herself. According to Vance Packard, who wrote a book called The Status Seekers back in 1959, this is how upper class couples travel, except when a husband and wife take separate vehicles altogether. When middle class couples travel together, according to Packard, one married couple sits in the front and the other married couple sits in the back. And in travel among the lower classes, the two husbands sit together in the front and the two wives sit in the back. Don't get mad at me; I'm just quoting Vance Packard. He wrote back in the days when people also looked to Emily Post and Amy Vanderbilt for guidance in matters of etiquette. Those days are long gone.

The Status Seekers also includes a chapter entitled "The Long Road From Pentecostal To Episcopalian," but that is a subject for another day.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Alert the media: The "Bah, humbug" phase has ended.

Little signs that I'm finally getting into the Christmas spirit:

-- Gift-buying for the grandchildren is finished, as well as for the male adults in the family. Gift-buying for the female adults has not yet occurred, however. The good news: There are still twelve shopping days until Christmas. The bad news: All those gifts have to be wrapped.

-- Putting up a Christmas tree is beginning to seem more like a sweet inevitability and less like a repugnant chore.

-- Sitting down and signing Christmas cards and addressing all those envelopes and sticking on all those stamps sounds almost enjoyable.

-- Scot McKnight posted all eight verses of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" on his blog and I didn't have one cynical thought.

-- I've hummed through "Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne And Thy Kingly Crown" several times.

As each speaker says at the end of each lesson in the Nine Lessons and Carols, "Thanks be to God." Now if we could just get the all-Christmas-all-the-time radio station to stop playing that barking dogs version of "Jingle Bells"....

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Travel is so broadening.

Today let us ponder things Mexican and things Japanese. Or not. Let me explain.

My oldest son had to fly to Louisiana this weekend to play his saxophone (I'm not kidding), and since my daughter-in-law's schedule included attending a luncheon on Saturday at her church for all the ladies involved in weekly Bible studies, she called us on Friday and asked if we could come over and stay with Matthew and Ansley for part of the day Saturday. Matthew called us Saturday morning and asked that we bring along our set of Mexican Train Dominoes. It turned out that except for the hour when the four of us went out to Chik-Fil-A for lunch, we played Mexican Train dominoes pretty much the entire time their mother was gone. I have no idea why this particular form of the game of dominoes is called Mexican Train, but I am willing to entertain all theories. One thing I know: it isn't the method by which most of our friends from south of the border arrive in our fair country.

Today was Noah's tenth birthday, and he had asked that the party be held at a Japanese restaurant. So eight little boys and six adults oohed and ahhed at the antics of the chef just as so many before us have done. When I asked the hostess what the name of the restaurant, Hanami, meant, she struggled to find the words in English and finally said, "when the seasons change and the flowers fall." I thought she was talking about autumn, even though she had definitely said flowers, not leaves. When I got back home, I signed onto Ye Olde Trusty Computer and asked ask.com for more information. Turns out hanami means "viewing the cherry blossoms" and is either a revered cultural event or a drunken orgy, depending on whom you ask. The nearest thing to it I can think of here in the good old U. S. of A. would have to be a combination of (a) "going to see the autumn leaves" if it happened in the spring [Note. Here in Atlanta, we do have a spring equivalent we call "looking at dogwoods and azaleas"] and (b) Mardi Gras, which is also either a revered cultural event (the day before Lent begins) or a drunken orgy, depending on whom you ask.

The title of the post says it all. Travel is so broadening, even when it's only to Acworth and Canton.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Yes, Virginia, there is a St. Nicholas

and today, December 6, happens to be the day when people in many places around the world honor him. He looked nothing like the mental image you probably have of his direct descendant, Santa Claus. We have a poem called "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (written in 1823 by either Clement Clark Moore or someone else) and twentieth-century artist Haddon Sundblom's depiction of him for The Coca-Cola Company's Christmas advertising in 1931 to thank for that. (I would include Sundblom's picture of your mental image here, Virginia, except that the aforementioned Coca-Cola Company owns the copyright.)

According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, the real St. Nicholas was born around 270 A.D. and died on this date in the year 343 in what is now the country of Turkey. He is the patron saint of sailors, fishermen, merchants, archers, children, the falsely accused, pawnbrokers, thieves, and students in Greece, Belgium, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Slovakia, Serbia, and Montenegro. He is also the patron saint of several cities, among which are Barranquilla in Colombia, Bari in Italy, Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and Beit Jala in the West Bank of Palestine. In 1809, the New York Historical Society convened and named Sancte Claus the patron saint of Nieuw Amsterdam, the Dutch name for New York, so Saint Nicholas could also be considered the patron saint of New York.

As I said a couple of posts back in an entirely different context, start spreadin' the news.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

First night of Hanukkah, er, Chanukah, er, the Festival of Lights

At sundown tonight, the eight-day Jewish holiday known as Hanukkah begins. Hanukkah (or Chanukah, or however you choose to spell it) marks the
re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by the forces of Antiochus IV (around 165 B.C.). It commemorates the "miracle of the container of oil." According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil. Each evening during Hanukkah, another candle is lit on the menorah until, on the final day, the entire menorah is lit.

The dreidel, a four-sided top, is used for a game played during Hanukkah. Each side of the dreidel bears a letter of the Hebrew alphabet: נ (Nun), ג (Gimel), ה (Hei), and ש (Shin), which together form the acronym for the Hebrew phrase
"נס גדול היה שם" (Nes Gadol Haya Sham) which means "a great miracle happened there." [Note. Most of the information in the preceding two paragraphs was taken from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.]

No matter what anyone might have told you, Hanukkah is not "the Jewish Christmas."

In the interest of full disclosure, my mother was Jewish (non-practicing) and my father was Christian (lapsed Methodist). I was raised Christian and have never attended a synagogue, but for years I struggled with my own identity. I wondered whether I was Christian or Jewish or half-Jewish, whatever that meant, and whether there could even be such a thing as "half-Jewish." In 1962, Mrs. Lydia Buksbazen of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, whose husband Victor headed the Friends of Israel missionary organization, told me, "Hitler would have considered you Jewish." So basically, if my great-grandfather Max Silberman had not left Germany and come to America in the 1860's, we might not be having this conversation.

"Start spreadin' the news..."

We were watching Good Morning, America on ABC-TV this morning, something we don't usually do, and suddenly there was Liza (with a "z") Minnelli (with two "n's" and two "l's") singing her signature song, "New York, New York," accompanied by a group of musicians with a Big Band sound, right there in Diane Sawyer's studio. It was, in my humble opinion, awful (Liza's rendition of the song, not Diane Sawyer's studio).

"...I'm leaving today..." Would that it were so. Liza is 61 now, and her voice is just not what it used to be. (But then, whose is?) Ellie said, "Ohhhhhhh, she's trying to be like Tony Bennett." To which I replied, "No, she wants to be adored the way her mother was." (Is anyone unaware that her mother was, as Wikipedia refers to her, "the legendary actress and singer Judy Garland"?) (Wow, three punctuation marks in a row!). The chance of being loved more than some people love Judy Garland is similar to the chance of being hated more than some people hate Adolf Hitler (or Hillary Clinton or the Ayatollah Khomeini or Saddam Hussein or O. J. Simpson or George W. Bush): slim and none. (Note to self: Try to stop using so many parentheses.)

Judy Garland was only 46 or 47 when she died. Liza's voice at 61, as I said, is just not what it used to be. The warble has changed to a wobble; her vibrato was wide enough to drive a truck through. The band took the intro at a faster pace than I have ever heard the song performed before, probably to accommodate Liza's lack of breath control nowadays. It reminded me of hearing a 33-1/3 rpm recording played at 45 rpm (something we used to do in the fifties to amuse ourselves, for all you iTunes and Blackberry people). It just didn't sound right. To be fair, though, everyone applauded and shouted and whistled and stomped when she was finished. (Much in the way people probably responded when the Queen Mary ocean liner docked in Long Beach.) (I really have to stop using parentheses.)

I know I'm sounding uncharitable. I have to work on that. It's a failing of mine. Mama used to say, "If you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all." Alice Roosevelt Longworth, on the other hand, once embroidered a pillow with the saying, "If you can't say something nice about someone, come sit by me." Maybe I should pray daily, "Lord, make me more like Mama, and less like Alice Roosevelt Longworth." (I wonder if Liza Minnelli ever prays, "Lord, make me more like Mama"?...oops, there are those pesky parentheses again.)

Speaking of the Lord and praying, the prayer we call His includes these words: "And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Even musically. For musicians, maybe especially musically. And Matthew wrote in his Gospel, "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged." Whoa! And Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you."

Now there's some news worth spreading.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Nutcracker Suites, Basketball Games

Last night we drove over to Marietta again, this time to see the Georgia Ballet's 2007 production of Mr. Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite at the Cobb Civic Center. The Georgia Ballet is in its 48th year and the Nutcracker Suite is in its 116th, having premiered in 1892. Two of our grandchildren, Matthew and Ansley, participated (last night, not in 1892). Ansley was a Victorian party girl in Act I and Matthew had the role of Fritz (the naughty brother who broke Clara's toy Nutcracker). He was also one of the soldiers in the "Battle With The Mice King" scene in Act I and returned to dance with Clara in the "Mother Ginger" scene during Act II. They were both absolutely fabulous. I believe this is Ansley's second year and Matthew's fifth year to participate in this holiday favorite. There are five more performances. Their mother, by the way, teaches at the Georgia Ballet School and danced many roles in Nutcracker herself when she was a student of Georgia Ballet's founder, the late Iris Hensley. Ms. Hensley's choreography is still being used, and it must have been a déjà vu evening for our daughter-in-law's parents, who sat several rows in front of us.

Today we will be attending not one but two basketball games because Cherokee County Youth Basketball season has officially begun. Our grandson Elijah is on a sixth-grade boys team and his brother Noah is on a fourth-grade boys team. This season is going to be difficult logistically for us because the games are played at elementary schools all over the county. Today, for example, Elijah's game starts at 11:00 a.m. in Ball Ground and Noah's game starts at 12 noon in Waleska. These towns are fifteen miles apart. So we will be "tag-teaming" with the boys' parents; all of us are going to Ball Ground to watch Elijah's game, but one car will be leaving early to get Noah to Waleska on time. After Elijah's game ends, the rest of us will travel lickety-split to Waleska to watch what's left of Noah's game. [Update. We got there two minutes before the first half ended.] Elijah and Noah will also be absolutely fabulous. I know because I've seen them play basketball before. This sort of Saturday is scheduled to last until mid-February.

We do have a reprieve of sorts in January: Ellie will be having knee replacement surgery. It is therefore with utmost sincerity that we solicit your prayers for our sanity between now and Presidents Day.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

One Handsome Dog!

Hello! My name is Jethro. I am three years old, male, and Havanese (as in Havana, Cuba, where my ancestors came from). Some people think I'm Maltese or Bichon Friese or even Lhasa Apso, but I'm not. I'm Havanese. I live in a nice, warm house with two old people who think I'm the cutest thing they have ever seen. I have won shows in Georgia and Florida but now I am retired. One of my favorite things to do is go riding in a car with the old people. Sometimes we visit my cousin, a black Labrador whose name is Sharpie. If you click on my picture, you can see me even better.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The human predicament explained.

Thanksgiving is now over for another year and once again the usual good time was had by the usual all. We participated in two Thanksgiving get-togethers, one on Wednesday night at my son's house with all 14 of our immediate family present, and one on The Big Day Itself at my son-in-law's parents' house three hours to the west with 38 present.

Which set me to thinking about family sizes and how different our experiences can be. When I was a kid growing up in Texas, for example, all holidays consisted of just the three of us--Mama, Daddy, and me--around the kitchen dinette table. All of Mama's relatives lived in Pennsylvania and all of Daddy's relatives lived in Iowa and Wisconsin. By the time I was 14 I had met two of hers and none of his. In those days before air travel was common, every trip had to be by train or automobile and would have taken several days, so trips simply didn't take place. Those were also the days when long-distance telephone calls were very expensive. My mother talked to her sister once a year, on New Year's Eve, when my aunt called from Philadelphia at 11 p.m. Texas time to wish us all a happy new year. After Mama died and Daddy married my stepmother, I experienced true culture shock. I went overnight from being an only child to being the middle one of five children. My stepmother herself was the second oldest of ten children, and all but one of them lived in Dallas County. Every holiday meant gobs and gobs of relatives on the premises, 40 or 50 at least. Sometimes it didn't even have to be a holiday.

I guess what I'm saying is, be thankful for the things you have and the ones you love, but don't ever think that you understand others or that they understand you. We cannot walk in one another's shoes; we can walk only in our own. Each of us has a unique life with a unique set of experiences. The wonder is that we can communicate at all.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Holidays and prepositions

Thanksgiving is day after tomorrow, and Christmas is five weeks from today. Part of me says, "Yes! Woo-hoo! My favorite time of year!" and another part of me says, "I'll be glad when it's over." I do enjoy getting together with our offspring and their families, I enjoy the food, I enjoy the carols (real ones, about the birth of Christ). But I don't enjoy all the accompanying hustle-bustle and commercialization and the rush in some quarters to be first, biggest, or best. For example, we saw our first Christmas-decorated house this year shortly after Halloween. That's one set of Joneses we will not be keeping up with. Make that one set of Joneses with whom we will not be keeping up. No, make that one set of Joneses up with whom we will not be keeping.

Since Dave Barry stopped writing columns, where is Mr. Language Person when you need him? Someone once took Winston Churchill to task for ending a sentence with a preposition, and he replied, "That is the sort of criticism up with which I will not put." Someone else said that anybody who thinks a preposition is a word you're not supposed to end a sentence with doesn't know what prepositions are for or what language is all about [emphasis mine]. Which reminds me of an old joke: A salesman knocks on a door and a little boy opens it. The salesman says, "Son, may I speak to your mother?" and the little boy replies, "She ain't at home." Shocked, the salesman says, "Son, where's your grammar?" and the little boy replies, "She's upstairs takin' a bath."

Getting back to the subject of the holiday season, I'm no Scrooge. But in recent years I have discerned that I go through a "Bah, humbug" phase before really getting into the spirit of the season. So I guess it has started--the "Bah, humbug" part, I mean.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The musical heritage continues

On Thursday evening we took Elijah over to Marietta to see and hear his cousin Matthew sing in the GMEA District XII Elementary Honor Chorus's fall concert. (GMEA stands for the Georgia Music Educators Association and District XII encompasses all of Cobb County and maybe Douglas and Paulding.) Noah stayed home; he didn't want to go.

The concert was held at Piedmont Baptist Church, I suppose because of the size of the chorus and the anticipated size of the audience. We stopped at Mickey D's on the way there because Elijah has recently discovered quarter-pounders. We ate in the car so we wouldn't be late. When we arrived at Piedmont, Elijah wanted to take what was left of his soft drink and the rest of his French fries into the building, but we said an emphatic "NO." When he asked why not we said because it was a church, not a stadium. Elijah is a weekly church attender and should know better, but in his defense, from the outside Piedmont looks a little like Philips Arena or a smaller version of the Georgia Dome, where Elijah saw an Atlanta Falcons football game a couple of weeks ago.

We parked the car and went in and took our seats. The children in the chorus are all fifth- and sixth-graders recommended by the directors of the local school choruses. The program listed 45 elementary schools in District XII. Between 350 and 400 children dressed in jeans and red T-shirts filled the platform (think Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir times two), and what appeared to be at least a couple of thousand proud relatives were in attendance (I'm not good at estimating crowd size). It took several minutes just to get all the children onto the platform, and applause continued throughout their long entrance.

The concert turned out to be an EVENT. The chorus sang six songs, including "Knick-knack, Paddywhack" (complete with choreography) and, at the other end of the musical spectrum, "Alleluia!" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. There was the usual patriotic medley. Most of the songs were in two-part harmony and Matthew sang alto or second-soprano. His mom and dad and sister were in the audience, of course, along with our daughter-in-law's parents. Her brother and his family were also present because Matthew's cousin, Nicholas, had also been chosen to participate from his school.

The evening had a déjà vu element about it for Ellie and me because we remembered seeing Matthew's father sing with his elementary school chorus at Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Palm Beach, Florida, when he was in sixth grade. The déjà vu was doubled for me because I was a boy alto myself, and although our little school did not have an elementary school chorus, I did sing a duet with Mary Grace Hornell at First Methodist Church in Mansfield, Texas, when I was in fourth grade and she was in second. "Whispering Hope," as I recall.

The District XII Elementary Honor Chorus will also be singing at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center (new home of the Atlanta Opera) in December as part of the observance of Cobb County's 175th birthday, but Matthew will not be able to participate because of a conflict. This year he has the role of Fritz in the Georgia Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker" and Ansley will be a Victorian party girl.

You can't say we aren't doing our part to perpetuate the fine arts. Anyone can donate money. We give flesh and blood.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bury my heart at Big Canoe

Yesterday was our annual fall drive. Not as in soliciting pledges on National Public Radio. I mean a real drive, in a car, to see the leaves here in north Georgia. This one was unplanned and sort of sneaked up on us, but it didn't disappoint.

The day had started ordinarily enough. We took Jethro to the vet for his yearly shots; scooted by Burger King for sausage, egg, and cheese croissants before their breakfast hours ended; and dropped off some mail at the post office. I didn't feel like going home just yet so I said, "Want to see some leaves?" and Ellie replied in the affirmative. We were off on an adventure! We made a right turn out of the post office instead of our usual left.

A couple of years ago our drive lasted five hours, but yesterday's trip was exactly half that long. The trees were gorgeous, absolutely stunning. And traffic was practically non-existent because it was a Wednesday, a perk retirees can appreciate. The "scenery" started up almost immediately. We headed up the Reinhardt College Parkway (Highway 140 to the oldtimers) past Waleska and Pine Log into Bartow County, turned north on U.S. 411 into Gordon County, then east on Highway 53 towards Jasper in Pickens County. We could have taken Highway 136 into Talking Rock, but we didn't. In Jasper we turned left at Burnt Mountain Road and caught up with Highway 136 on its way to Dawson County. The colors of the leaves and the views of the mountains were magnificent. Before reaching Dawsonville, we turned right on Steve Tate Road and headed back towards Pickens County, passed Big Canoe, and returned to our beloved Cherokee County via Yellow Creek Road and Highway 369.

I can report that a good time was had by all, including Jethro.

Monday, November 12, 2007

I don't think so

If I heard her correctly on her television program today, Oprah Winfrey introduced Celine Dion as "the greatest female singer of all time." This will probably come as a surprise to fans of, oh, I don't know, maybe Joan Sutherland, Maria Callas, Beverly Sills, Marilyn Horne, Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman, Roberta Peters, Kathleen Battle, Kirsten Flagstaad, Birgit Nilsson, Renata Tebaldi, and Amelia Galli-Curci. If you don't care for opera, try another genre. What about Julie Andrews, Barbra Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald, Whitney Houston, Eydie Gormé, Kate Smith, Wynona Judd, Judy Garland, Joan Baez? The list goes on and on.

Oprah, if I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times: Don't exaggerate. A little hyperbole goes a long way.

In Flanders Fields

Today is the annual observance called Veterans Day in the United States -- Monday, November 12, 2007. The date varies each year with the calendar, whatever is the second Monday in November, in accordance with changes that took place in the list of Federal holidays during Lyndon Johnson's presidency. Government workers wanted three-day weekends, so voila! (vwah-lah for the French-impaired), three-day weekends they would henceforth have. Lincoln's Birthday (Feb. 12) and Washington's Birthday (Feb. 22) were out; we would have the non-specific Presidents Day instead! And the old Armistice day (Nov. 11) honoring those who fought in World War I was out; we would have Veterans Day instead to honor the living veterans of all wars. After all, the logic went, we had Memorial Day in May to honor those who had died in all wars. Armistice Day had become superfluous, expendable.

But some of us can remember older relatives who had served in the military during World War I; we can remember buying and wearing poppies on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in their honor; we can remember pausing at the eleventh hour for a moment of silence to remember the human toll of the war that was supposed to end all wars.

Now that I have my own blog and can do whatever I want with it, I choose today to post the following poem by John McCrae (1872-1918). He was a Canadian physician and fought on the Western Front in 1914, but was then transferred to the medical corps and assigned to a hospital in France. He died of pneumonia while on active duty in 1918. The poem was written in 1915 while he was serving in Belgium.


IN FLANDERS FIELDS

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Making memories at Burger King


Because my son and daughter-in-law had places to go and people to see, Nana and Grandpa (that's us) stayed with Elijah, age 11, and Noah, age 9, Thursday afternoon and evening. They finished their homework, and when mealtime rolled around, I took the boys to Burger King. We promised to bring something home to Nana. I don't know what you do when you go to Burger King, but we were sitting in our booth talking. I mentioned that their cousin Matthew had been chosen to sing in his county's honor chorus and the concert was next Thursday night.

"Really!" said Elijah.

"Yes," I said. "Would you guys like to go hear him sing if it's all right with your Mom and Dad on a school night?"

Elijah said, "I would," but Noah said, "No, not really."

Since we were on the subject of music, I suppose, Noah said, "Every morning we sing 'America the Beautiful' at school." He started singing, "O, beautiful for purple skies" and Elijah and I joined him at "For amber waves of grain." Our little trio wasn't loud and we weren't disturbing anyone else in the restaurant, as far as I could tell.

When we finished the first verse, I said, "That song has several more verses." Noah said, "It does?" and Elijah began singing, "O, beautiful for patriot dream" so I joined in again and made it a duet. Noah just listened.

When we finished that verse, I asked, "Do you say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning too?" They said they did. I asked them if they sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and they said they didn't. I told them that some people think "America the Beautiful" ought to be our national anthem because it is prettier and easier to sing than "The Star-Spangled Banner."

"But I think 'The Star-Spangled Banner' is more patriotic," said Elijah.

"Well, it was written during a war," I said. Noah said, "It was?" and I said, "Yes, during the War of 1812, during a battle at night. The man who wrote the song could see that our flag was still there because of the light from the rockets' red glare and the bombs bursting in air."

"Oh," said Noah. We paused and reflected. As the Psalmist said, Selah.

Noah asked, "Grandpa, when was World War I?"

"From 1914 to 1918," I said. "During World War II my dad was in the Navy, but two of his older brothers were in World War I." As I thought of my Uncle Art and my uncle John, it suddenly occurred to me that next Monday is Veterans Day, so I told the boys that Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day to commemorate the cease-fire that ended World War I, and that it always used to occur on November 11 because on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the soldiers stopped shooting at each other. Elijah said, "Really!"

I told them that when I was in school, whatever we were doing at the time, the principal would always come on the loudspeaker at eleven o'clock on November 11th every year and announce, "Let's have a moment of silence to honor the men who fought and died in World War I."

"Really!" said Elijah again.

The conversation turned to other things and we finished our food. We got something to take home to Nana and piled in the car to head back to the boys' house. The boys were subdued, their tummies full. About halfway home, Elijah said, "So at eleven o'clock on November 11th there was a moment of silence."

"Yes," I said.

"Grandpa, I love you," said Noah.

"I love you, too, baby," I said, but caught my faux pas and added quickly, "You're not a baby-- are you, Noah?" It was more a statement than a question.

"No," he said.

"Well, all my grandchildren are my babies and they will be even when they are all grown up," I said.

We pulled into the driveway and got out of the car and took Nana her sack of food. The streetlights had come on in the cul-de-sac so the boys went back outside for a game of kickball with some of the other kids in the neighborhood. Their version of kickball uses a beach ball and some of the mailboxes around the cul-de-sac serve as bases. One of the daddies was acting as umpire and one of the mommies was keeping track of the younger children.

I hope the boys remember our little trip to Burger King. I know I will.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A programming aptitude test

Here's a passage from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass that may help you decide, if you were wondering, whether to pursue a career as a computer programmer:
--------------------------------------------------
`You are sad,' the Knight said in an anxious tone: `let me sing you a song to comfort you.'

`Is it very long?' Alice asked, for she had heard a good deal of poetry that day.

`It's long,' said the Knight, `but it's very, very beautiful. Everybody that hears me sing it -- either it brings the tears into their eyes, or else --'

`Or else what?' said Alice, for the Knight had made a sudden pause.

`Or else it doesn't, you know. The name of the song is called "Haddocks' Eyes".'

`Oh, that's the name of the song, is it?' Alice said, trying to feel interested.

`No, you don't understand,' the Knight said, looking a little vexed. `That's what the name is called. The name really is "The Aged Aged Man".'

`Then I ought to have said "That's what the song is called"?' Alice corrected herself.

`No, you oughtn't: that's quite another thing! The song is called "Ways and Means": but that's only what it's called, you know!'

`Well, what is the song, then?' said Alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.

`I was coming to that,' the Knight said. `The song really is "A-sitting On a Gate": and the tune's my own invention.'
-------------------------------------------------

If reading that had your head spinning like Linda Blair's in The Exorcist, perhaps you should not consider computer programming for your life's work. But if you understood the passage perfectly, if you were drawn to the "else" discussion as a moth to the flame, if you had no trouble separating the song, the name of the song, what the song is called, and what the name of the song is called, not to mention the tune, from one another, and if the last few minutes brought a twinkle to your eyes and a chuckle to your throat, then you obviously have a grasp of symbolic representation that just may be your key to fame, fortune, and success in the programming world! Or, as COBOL and FORTRAN programmers used to say, else.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker?

No, and they're not the Three Musketeers traveling incognito, either, or the Three Stooges, or even Patty, Maxine, and Laverne, the Andrews Sisters. These three lovely ladies are Alabama schoolteachers who educated their students about shock and awe this week by wearing their Halloween costumes to class. One is udderly fascinating (sorry), one is a bit batty, and one, the Evil Queen from Snow White complete with poisoned apple, is none other than Angela, my daughter!

As you can see, I finally learned how to include photographs in my blog. I had hoped to begin with the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but you take what you can get. (Actually, I think the picture's great!) And if you click on the photo, you'll get the full effect.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Bible tells me so

Back on the third day of this blog, in the third post [And they said it wouldn't last, 9/30/2007], I wrote that I would try not to make the blog all about me, me, me because He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease. I was quoting a verse from the gospel of St. John (chapter 3, verse 30) that I thoroughly believe. And then, except for just one other post where I mentioned 8x10 glossies, I began to tell you all about me, me, me and pretty much forgot about Him. So today I want to tell you something I discovered this week in the Bible.

In that third post, I used the word "Paraclete" in reference to the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity. Paraclete is probably not a word you hear except in sermons. Have you ever heard it in McDonald's or Macy's or while watching Dancing With The Stars or Boston Legal? Neither have I. Paraclete is from a Greek word, παράκλητος, parakletos. Every single time I've ever heard it the speaker was referring to one of four verses in the New Testament -- John 14:16, John 14:26, John 15:26, or John 16:7 -- where the word is translated "Comforter" and refers to the Holy Spirit. Some translations say "Helper" and someone explained once that the word means "One called alongside to help." So far, so good.

Recently I was reading a blog where some Christians in academia, intellectuals for the most part, were having a conversation about the lack of equity in the world, the unfairness of wealth distribution, the injustice of it all, and what the Christian community ought to be doing to remedy that situation. They sounded like Democrats to me. My thoughts took a more personal turn; I was thinking that my only hope for justice and fairness in this world or the next is not to reform society but to throw myself on the mercy of the court, on the grace and mercy of Almighty God. (By the way, the best definitions of grace and mercy I ever heard came from an 82-year-old gentleman who said that grace is getting something you don't deserve, and mercy is not getting something you do deserve.) When I thought about trials and judges and lawyers and fairness and justice some more, something John wrote in his first epistle (I John 2:1) came to mind: "My little children, I write these things unto you that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous." I decided to look that verse up in the Blue Letter Bible online to learn more about what an advocate is.

I was completely surprised. No, I was dumbfounded. It was like finding a gold nugget or a sparkling diamond. The word translated "advocate" in I John 2:1 is the very same word translated "Comforter" in John 14, 15, and 16 -- παράκλητος, parakletos, paraclete! I've always heard the I John passage explained as having a legal flavor, that having an advocate with the Father was like having a lawyer represent you before a judge. No one in all these years has ever suggested to me that an advocate might also be a comforter or that a comforter might also be an advocate. But there it was, plain as the nose on my face, in the original Greek.

So not only do we have One called alongside to help us here on earth (the Holy Spirit), but we also have One called alongside to help us in the heavenlies (the crucified, risen Christ). Both of them are paracletes! A double whammy! And when Jesus said he would send us "another" Comforter, he used a word that means another of the same kind, One just like Himself. Of course! Wouldn't He, being a paraclete, know just the sort of paraclete humanity would need?

This excites me. It makes me want to shout about the goodness of God. I'm so glad his mercy endures forever. I can understand that, even in English.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I was kidding, I was kidding...

We have been visiting Alabama periodically ever since 1982, when our oldest son decided to attend a university there because of its music program. Three years later, our daughter chose the same school. Some of my best friends (and relatives) live in Alabama. This past Sunday, we were visiting because my daughter and her friend Amy played "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" as a flute duet, accompanied by the church orchestra, during their church's communion service. My son-in-law was playing French horn, and Amy's husband, Scott, was playing trombone. We know other people in that orchestra also: Howard (trombone), Tracey (trombone), Vicki (French horn), Jason (trombone), Christy (clarinet), Steve (piano), and Dale (organ). At one time the orchestra had around 45 people, but even though it is a bit smaller now it still sounds great. Howard's wife, Leslie, directs the choir, which has 175 singers on an average Sunday and grows to 300 or more for Christmas and Easter presentations. Vicki of the French horn was my daughter's roommate in college; Vicki's husband, Tracey the trombonist, was my son-in-law's roommate at the same college. Pastor Kevin's sermon topic was sin (he was ag'in it), and every Christian who heard him is supposed to forgive me my Alabamistan-post trespass.

Because we were away, we missed Saturday's final football game of Elijah's regular season. His team won the division, and playoffs start next weekend. As usual, Elijah was on the field for just about the entire game, alternating between offense and defense. While playing defense, he intercepted a pass and ran 40 yards for a touchdown! And while playing offense, he scored a second time on a running play from the five-yard line!

Both Elijah and Noah are very serious about sports. They have already registered for basketball season. I think our Saturdays are going to be busy for a very long time.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Birmingham Diary

Currently embedded deep behind enemy lines in a remote part of Alabamistan, your correspondent must report that thus far he has encountered no banjos of mass destruction (BMD). There is always the possibility, of course, that his unit was dropped into a BMD-free zone, but that seems highly unlikely. Nevertheless, life here appears to the untrained eye to be unfolding at a more or less normal pace. The most important word in the previous sentence is "appears." The local citizenry have been successful in concealing their undoubtedly frenzied covert activity by making everything seem ordinary.

Small differences constantly remind one that home is far away. The good people of Georgia, for example, who tease one another good-naturedly about bulldogs and yellow jackets, would be appalled at the Alabamistani populace who, divided into two factions called UA and AU, daily threaten to unleash war eagles and an ominous-sounding crimson tide (which may be a euphemism for the dreaded Red Menace of an earlier era) on one another.

Neither the red and black of our beloved University of Georgia nor the gold, black, and white of Atlanta's own Georgia Tech can be found anywhere. Instead, only the aforementioned UA crimson and a hideous combination of AU orange and blue are seen hereabouts.

One continues attempting as one can to gather intelligence, but that commodity is in rare supply here. As every schoolchild in Georgia knows, the only good thing coming out of Alabamistan is I-20. Your correspondent is eager to return to God's country from Alabamistan with a banjo on his knee. Here, the search for BMDs continues.

This report has been certified as fair and balanced by representatives of the mainstream media in Atlanta.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Is this the party to whom I am speaking?

Tuesday evening Patti C. called and invited us over for a light meal of chicken salad, seafood salad, and egg salad croissants, fresh grapes, and a garden salad with Vidalia onion dressing. Scrumptious! Afterward, the four of us played one of our favorite table games, Mexican Train Dominoes, and Ellie and I admired some of the treasures Patti and John found at a recent estate sale. This time they brought home several crystal and silver items, a few clocks, and some music boxes of both the working and non-working variety. My vote for the most unusual item was a music box that featured David preparing to clobber Goliath while King Saul observed from a palace in the distance, all to the tune of "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." John put on a pot of coffee and we ended the evening with Patti's to-die-for dessert: a Chocolate-Peanut-Butter-Oreo Cream Pie -- the fat-free, sugar-free version, which I defy anyone to tell from the other kind. Maybe we're easy to please, but a fun time was had by all.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The memory is the first thing to go...

Way back in 1961, after completing Air Force basic training in San Antonio and a technical school in Wichita Falls, I was assigned to my first permanent-duty station in Orlando, Florida. There I became friends with Stanley M., a guy in my barracks who hailed from Rome, New York, and we have stayed in touch through the years. In fact, he was a groomsman in my wedding, and he has never failed to send us birthday cards and anniversary cards, as well as small monetary gifts to the children at Christmas until they were grown. After leaving the military, I lived in Poughkeepsie, New York, and Boca Raton, Florida, and for thirty-two years now, here in the Atlanta area. Stan moved around, too; he lived in Manhattan, Atlanta, and Los Angeles over the years before going back to upstate New York when he retired. Several years ago I decided to stop sending a card on his birthday and call him on the telephone instead.

This has worked just fine until the last couple of years. I could always remember the date of the month but I began to have trouble remembering whether his birthday fell in October or November. Then I thought of a mnemonic aid. I remembered that when we were stationed in Orlando, Stan once bought himself a set of smoky topaz cuff links (this was back in the days when shirts with French cuffs were all the rage) and I remembered that he told me it was because topaz was his birthstone. So I looked up a list of birthstones, and there it was: October, opal. November, topaz. Since opal and October both start with "O" and Stan's birthstone was topaz, I had a way to remember that his birthday was in November, not in October.

But last year when I called, Stan said, "You're a month late; my birthday was last month." It set me to wondering whether those cuff links had been opal instead of topaz, and whether my mnemonic aid was supposed to remind me that Stan's birthday WAS in October instead of to remind me that it WASN'T. So I called him last week and said, "I'm calling to wish you a happy birthday," and he said, "You're a month early; my birthday's not until next month."

"Stan," I said, "is your birthstone opal or topaz?"

"Topaz," he said.

"That's what I thought," I said. "But you told me when I called last year that I was a month late."

"Bob," he said, "last year you called me in December."

We had a nice chat and I said I would call again next month. And I will. If I remember.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

What? Saturday already?

This blog is less than a month old and already my posting has slowed considerably. Therefore, be it resolved: I shall try to blog more often. The problem is that so much occurs, even in my little world, that I don't know where to start. I become immobilized, paralysis sets in, and before you know it, several days have elapsed without my having set fingers to the keyboard. For example, I learned several things this week:

I learned that my childhood friend, Charles M., had undergone a double lung transplant in Houston, that his heart had stopped on the operating table, and that although they were able to get his heart going again, he was on life support equipment and in a medically-induced coma.

I learned that my oldest son and his wife have invited our entire family (fourteen in all, including them) to their house on the day before Thanksgiving.

I learned that my wife may need to have knee replacement surgery in the not-too-distant future if the series of Euflexxa injections she begins on Tuesday do not do the trick.

I learned that the tickets I thought I was going to have to purchase for my wife and me (at $31.00 apiece) for this year's Nutcracker Suite ballet at the Cobb Civic Center in Marietta have already been paid for by my daughter-in-law as an early Christmas present to us. Two of our grandchildren, Matthew and Ansley, will be participating in the production once again.

I learned that Mary Alice H., a former colleague at Western Electric/AT&T/Lucent Technologies who took an early retirement package in 1999, is now the pastor of a Presbyterian Church in North Carolina. Way to go, Mary Alice!

I learned that in Cumming, Georgia, one town over, a Greek Festival is being held this weekend at the Greek Orthodox Church. I didn't even know there was a Greek Orthodox Church in Cumming, Georgia. I must go check out the dolmathes, the spanakopita, the baklava, the kourabiades, the leg of lamb, the orzo (but not the ouzo), the kataifi, the....

I learned that the time has rolled around again for my dog's rabies vaccination, and also that he learned to get out of his mesh crate by completely destroying the screen with his toenails.

I learned that my daughter, a second-grade teacher in Alabama, has been asked to play her flute in a duet at her church, accompanied by live orchestra, and that we have been invited (by her, not her church) to spend the weekend.

I learned that I probably need to come out of retirement and find work to augment our income so that our debt can be eradicated. I'm considering trying to become certified as a medical transcriptionist because of my English skills and rapid typing ability.

Sadly, I learned that Charles M. died. My heart goes out to his wife, Cora Faith, and to his children, and to his sister, Louise.

Forty-some years ago there was a Broadway musical called Stop The World, I Want To Get Off. That's the way I felt this week. Maybe next week will be better.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The week in review, sort of

I say "sort of" because it won't be the complete week, and it won't include world headlines or the latest gaffes, foibles, and outrages from the entertainment world. I'm going to let others report on Al Gore's Nobel Peace prize, Hillary Rodham Clinton's standing in the polls, Britney and K-Fed's battles over their children. The week being reviewed here will be MY week or rather OUR week, Ellie's and mine.

On Sunday, we went to church. Bob sang in the choir. Pastor is in the middle of a series called "Transformed From Within." After church, we attended the first session of a small group six-week course on prayer led by Walter and Margaret. We all ate lunch together; Judy (of Bruce and Judy) brought lasagna and someone else brought three pies for dessert. Then we watched portions of a DVD led by Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, and discussed it afterward. Then we actually prayed.

On Monday, we recuperated from Sunday.

On Tuesday, Ellie saw her orthopedic surgeon for the one-year follow-up of his operation on her left shoulder's rotary cuff. No problem there. But her knees need attending to (he said she is pretty much walking "bone on bone"), so he is going to start off with a series of Euflexxa shots. If they don't work, possible knee surgery is on the horizon. Two or three years ago, at another doctor's office, Ellie received a series of Synvisc shots in her knee. Synvisc is made from the combs of roosters, and the animal protein in the medicine caused Ellie to have rapid heartbeat. Since Euflexxa is synthetic and contains no animal proteins, we are hoping it will work.

On Wednesday, we attended the sixth session of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, a thirteen-week course. It also contains no animal proteins, and we are hoping it too will work. So far we have learned some important lessons about budgeting, debt reduction, investing, and stopping the use of plastic.

On Thursday, we had an evening (okay, late afternoon) meal with a group of senior adults from our church who have met for several years. We usually eat at Folks (formerly Po' Folks) or Family Tradition Restaurant. Some of us are just barely seniors, and some have been seniors for quite a while. Rosemary, Laraine, and Kate are all in their eighties. Hugh and Jean, Carolyn, Esther, Sharon (and sometimes Wayne), Ellie and I are scattered across our sixties and seventies. Esther's son, Patrick, who always comes with her, was hit by a car while riding his bike when he was twelve and lay in a coma for six months. He survived, but with brain damage. Patrick, now 41, brings joy to us all. Rosemary's daughter, Lexi, is visiting from California so she came to dinner as well. Lexi is older than Patrick but younger than the rest of us. Bob and Audrey no longer are able to come, and neither are Bob and Amalfi, because both Bobs have health issues. This is not an exclusive group, just a group of old friends who like to get together.

On Saturday, there were once again two football games to attend. Noah's team lost this week, 15-0, but Elijah's team won in overtime, 9-8. I cannot discuss either game with you because the doctor doesn't like my blood pressure to rise.

So now the cycle starts over again. I'm typing this as Ellie finishes getting ready for church.

I am reminded of a very cynical poem by Dorothy Parker:

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
And I am Marie of Rumania.

Thank God for the decided lack of cynicism hereabouts. I think sermon series with titles like "Transformed From Within" have a lot to do with that.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Sonnets for the Space Age

Since the Space Age is now fifty years and five days old (see my October 4, 2007, blog), I am going to show you five sonnets that I wrote thirty years ago. For the purists among you, they are of the Elizabethan type, having fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, rhymed abab cdcd efef gg.

Sonnets for the Space Age, circa 1976

I.
Technology has shrunk our modern world;
No room today for the miraculous.
In space a big blue marble has been hurled,
And astronauts report the marble’s us.
Computers speed man’s progress on its way
Without regard to race or sex or creed;
The federal grant’s the order of the day
Without regard to truth or cost or need.
So equal opportunities abound
(Minorities don’t ever fall from grace);
And new solutions, almost daily found,
Are rushed to cure the ills of Adam’s race.
But seldom now does prayer storm Heaven’s gates:
Inside, the Lord sits patiently and waits.

II.
There was a time when life was slower-paced
And one could get to know his neighbor well.
Today each moment’s precious, none to waste.
Man’s much too busy hurrying toward Hell.
And like a lemming, jostled by the crowd,
He thrashes wildly with the drowning men;
He downs his drink and laughs a bit too loud,
And dashes out into the night again.
So helter-skelter, racing madly on,
He wears a mask to try to hide the lies;
His painted smile denies that time is gone,
But something doth betray him ‘round the eyes.
Exhausted, spent, he plunges past the goal
To gain the world and lose his sacred soul.

III.
Polaris is a missile and a star,
The one deployed on restless submarine,
The other keeping vigil from afar
While nebulae and comets roam between.
Much nearer Earth, the evanescent moon
Maintains her distance from our planet’s face.
Perhaps she senses conflict coming soon,
The Armageddon of the human race.
So warily she orbits overhead.
A quarter-million miles into the void,
She too keeps guard. We talk of peace instead,
Let our guard down. With warheads unemployed,
While newsmen speak of cabinets and kings,
Calamity is waiting in the wings.

IV.
Three heavens stretch above Earth’s little pond:
The daylight blue; the midnight’s starry host;
Incalculable distances beyond
These two, the one that modern men fear most.
(For if there is a Heaven they should gain,
A Hell to shun the day they pause to die,
Then all their science simply can’t explain
How in the merest twinkling of an eye…)
So, flippantly declaring it absurd,
Men laugh until their laughter turns to tears;
But Saul of Tarsus visited that third
And dared not speak of it for fourteen years.
If not till set of sun come out the stars,
Why balk at glories waiting behind Mars?

V.
No sooner had the missiles disappeared
Than waves of bombers rose up in their stead.
When all debris and rubble had been cleared,
We found almost a hundred million dead.
And some who lived were maimed, and some were charred,
And some no longer see, or hear, or walk;
And many, although outwardly unmarred,
No longer smile, no longer even talk.
For laughter is a thing of bygone days
When children played at imitation war.
Today most people stare with hollow gaze
Rememb’ring times, once real, that are no more.
When men cried, “Peace and safety,” all was lost.
We were not ready for the holocaust.



(Postscript: V has not come to pass. Thanks be to God. But in our post-9/11/2001 world, it seems all too horrifyingly possible.)

Saturday, October 6, 2007

What is so rare as a day in October?


Well, to be mathematically accurate, a day in February (28 days vs. October's 31). But that's not what I mean. Today the three of us--my wife, my dog, and I--attended two football games. Two of our grandsons were playing, one in a local megachurch's league and the other in the county's youth football association. The first game started at 9:30 a.m. in Canton and the second at 12 noon in Woodstock. The morning was gorgeous, sunny, with a little breeze. Temperatures were in the seventies. The leaves were just beginning to change colors. Fluffy, white clouds dotted the azure sky (in novels, the sky is always azure). We even noticed a large hawk or eagle circling high overhead, never moving its wings, gliding silently on the updrafts. It was a great day for football.

Elijah's team won 24-0; he made a spectacular interception plus several key blocks and tackles. Later, Noah's team won 13-0 with Noah doing the honors as quarterback; he threw one long, long pass that ended in a diving, fingertips reception downfield that impressed the entire crowd. My son helped move the yard markers, and my daughter-in-law took photographs from the sidelines. Jethro was the hit of the younger set, licking the faces and hands of all comers. We had to drive eight miles to the first game and ten more miles to the second, but nobody complained because the trees were a sight for sore eyes.

Back when I went to school, the English teacher made us memorize part of a poem by James Russell Lowell that began, "And what is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days." Well, Mr. Lowell, sir, I beg to differ. With sincere apologies, I vote for October.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

An important day in (my) history

Fifty years ago today, something happened that affected everyone in the world, and something else happened that affected very few but changed my life completely.

On Friday, October 4, 1957, the Russians launched a rocket that put an unmanned satellite named Sputnik into orbit around the earth. It circled the globe once every ninety minutes and people were both amazed and frightened. The Space Age had begun, and the Russians got there first. A great emphasis on science and mathematics began in American schools, along with a great decline in the liberal and fine arts. Who would need music and drama and painting when the barbarians were at the gates? People were abuzz. The world had changed forever.

I didn't find out about Sputnik for three days because on Friday, October 4, 1957, at about 7:30 in the morning, something else happened. My mother died. She had been in St. Joseph's hospital in Fort Worth for nearly a month, the latest hospitalization in eight long years of battling cancer. We had known for about a year that she was, as they say, terminal. She was forty-seven years old. I was sixteen. Nothing has been the same since. My world, also, had changed forever.

Some people say time heals all wounds. They are wrong.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again...

When I tried in yesterday's post to point you to two of my stories online, I must have done something wrong because all you get is "The page cannot be displayed." Undaunted, I shall now provide an alternate method for those among you who cannot imagine living another second without having read my stories. Simply (ha!) follow these steps:

1. Go to the website of A Prairie Home Companion; that is, type http://prairiehome.publicradio.org into the address line and click on Go.

2. Scroll down the APHC home page until you see "First Person: Share Your Stories From Home" on the right side of the page. Scroll past the titles of the currently offered story and poem until you see "Share your stories" and "Browse the ever-growing collection." Click the latter. (Warning: Clicking the former instead of the latter opens a window in which you can share your own story, so if you aren't prepared to do that, proceed with caution.)

3. When you browse the ever-growing collection, the currently offered story and poem are on the left side of the page and an archive list is on the right side of the page. My stories are in the archives. "Silver" (about a horse I used to have named Silver) is available by clicking September 2006. My story "Florabelle Oxley" (about a neighbor I used to have named something else altogether) is available by clicking June 2007. (Helpful hint: Depending on the size of your screen, clicking the archive reference may seem to bring up the same page you were on. If that happens, don't be confused; just scroll down until you see the entries for the month you picked listed by date.)

Maybe by the next time I want to put a link in a post, someone will have shown me how to do it correctly.

A thousand pardons. And again, happy reading.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Thanks, Big Dru, whoever you are

My blog has now been up for six days and I have received a total of three comments, all after my first post. Since that inital flurry, the silence has been deafening. One comment was from a friend, one was from a relative, and one was from someone called Big Dru. Since I don't know anyone called Big Dru, I googled the name and found 2,890 Big Drus in all. So his/her secret is still safe. It was a kind comment, so I'll quote it here: "Impressive! If your musings are as good as your stories published in the "Prairie Home Companion" website, we are in for a treat."

Thank you, dear sir or madam, for the kind words. So now I am forced (forced, I tell you) to be a tooter of my own horn and make the multitudinous readers of this blog (from my mouth to God's ear) aware of two stories of mine that were accepted by the kind folks in St. Paul, perhaps by the great Garrison Keillor himself. The first is Silver and the second is Florabelle Oxley.

Happy reading.

The best dog I ever had

When I was a little boy, my first pet was a border collie puppy we named Tippy. He was black and white, full of life, and a joy to be around. We lived in the country and no one used leashes in those days. Tippy lived three years until he was hit one day by a car. My dad found him in a ditch with his nose pointed toward home. He was the best dog I ever had.

Next came Sandy, a collie-shepherd mix, who also loved to chase cars down the dirt lane and bark ferociously at their wheels. Same story; three years; a car. He was the best dog I ever had.

Friskie was a mixture of collie and shepherd as well. Mama made up a little song about him: "I have a little dog named Friskie; he is a very intelligent pup. He can stand on his hind legs if you hold the front ones up." Another three years; another car. He was the best dog I ever had.

I had no dog for a while because life was happening: college, the Air Force, a wedding. My wife's experience with dogs is similar to mine; only the breeds were different. She had two black cocker spaniels, one after another, both named Nellie, and a Dachshund-Chihuahua mix named Tangie, short for tangerine. They were the best dogs she ever had.

In our first, small apartment we acquired a Manchester, also small, that we called Koko; she was very spoiled. We also acquired a son, and when he began playing a little too rough with her, we feared for Koko's safety. An older lady in the neighborhood agreed to take her. The last time we saw Koko she was wearing a mink coat. She was the best dog we ever had.

The poodles stayed with us the longest. Gigi, a black miniature, lived 10 years. Cricket, a gray toy, lived 11 years. P.J., short for Pierre Jean-Jacques DuBois, was a white miniature who lived with us for almost 13 years; one afternoon he had a stroke before our eyes. I held him in my arms and told him what a good dog he was while the vet put him to sleep, and I cried all the way home. All three of those poodles were undoubtedly the best dogs we ever had.

We had a couple of short-timers over the years, too. Spot, a beagle, liked to dig in the flower beds and jump through the screens on the porch. Rudy, a lively Dachshund whose full name was Rudolph Valentino because we got him on Valentine's day, thought he should be the Alpha male in the house. Even though they went to new homes, in their own ways they were the best dogs we ever had.

Now we have Jethro, a cream-colored Havanese. He's three. He is great with the grandchildren, an absolute love, a bit of a clown, a good watchdog, everything you could want in a pet. You guessed it, he's the best dog we ever had.

From Tippy and Nellie to Jethro, all of them have loved us unconditionally; all of them gave us the best they had to give, and we tried to do the same in return. All of them were the best dogs we ever had. Our pastor says there won't be any dogs in Heaven, but I read in the last chapter of the book of Revelation that a tree of life is there that bears twelve kinds of fruit, and its leaves are for the healing of the nations. Surely anywhere there's a tree, eventually a dog will find it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Thoughts on 8x10 glossies

In the original heading of this blog, I tried to make a little joke about not knowing how to include personal photos in the blog yet. I said to remember that in the beginning was the Word, not an 8x10 glossy [Note: the heading was changed on Nov. 9, 2007.]

I was quoting from the gospel of John, chapter 1, verse 1, King James Version: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." The rest of the chapter makes it clear that John is talking about Jesus Christ. I really wasn't trying to be sacrilegious, but sometimes I just don't seem to be able to help myself.

Later, a little phrase popped into my head from the book of Hebrews, a little check in my spirit, and now I feel compelled to tell you that maybe, just maybe, I was wrong about the 8x10 glossy. Here are the opening verses of the book of Hebrews, again in the KJV (because I like the KJV):

-----------------------------------------------
1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;
4 Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?
-----------------------------------------------

It's clear from the phrase "when he had by himself purged our sins" that this Son by whom God has spoken to us is Jesus Christ, the same Jesus Christ referred to as the Word in John's gospel. That six-word phrase in verse 3, "the express image of his person," sounds mighty like a photograph to me, so I looked at the Blue Letter Bible online, where you can see Bible passages in several English versions as well as the original languages of Hebrew and Greek (in the interest of full disclosure, I don't know very much about Hebrew and Greek).

The Greek word translated "express image," which is also translated "exact representation" in another version, turns out to be χαρακτηρ, charakter. Even I can see the word character. Jesus, then, is God's character revealed, the express image of his person, the exact representation of his nature. Jesus said as much to his friend Philip after Philip had said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and still you do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?" (John 14:8-9, English Standard Version)

So if we combine the truth of John 1:1 with that little nugget in Hebrews 1:3, we might even have to conclude, in a non-sacrilegious way, that in the beginning was the Word, and He was indeed an 8x10 glossy.

Monday, October 1, 2007

It boggles the mind

Yesterday in his sermon our pastor quoted a statistic I found startling. He had read somewhere that a person can have as many as ten million thoughts a day, which comes, he said, to over three and a half billion--with a B --thoughts a person can have in a year. My first thought upon hearing this interesting factoid was, "How could someone possibly have figured that out?" and my second thought was, "To be even more accurate, though not precise, one could have 3,650,000,000 thoughts in a year, unless it's a leap year, when one could have 3,660,000,000 thoughts." Either way, that's a whole lot of thoughts. A plethora, my son-in-law would say.

When I got home I did the math on my handy-dandy calculator. Sixty seconds in a minute times 60 minutes in an hour times 24 hours in a day gives you 86,400 seconds every day. So if you divide 10,000,000 thoughts by 86,400 seconds, you discover--if I heard the pastor correctly--that a person can think 115.74 thoughts per second every single second of his life. My third thought was, "That leaves no time for sleeping" and my fourth thought was, "That's almost as often as certain mainstream media outlets mention O.J., Britney, Nicole, Paris, and Lindsay." In case you were wondering, that fourth thought falls into the category of very unimportant (readers of this blog's first post, smile here). I did not say those five people are very unimportant. People can never be unimportant. They have souls. Try praying for them instead of condemning them or dismissing them as unimportant.

The ".74" part of the 115.74 thoughts per second got me to thinking even more (a fifth thought, maybe?). I know something that takes less time than a thought, less time than even three-fourths of a thought: a twinkle. I don't know how many twinkles can occur in three-fourths of a thought, but in the time it takes for an eye to twinkle, Christians believe they shall be changed. It says so in the fifteenth chapter of the book of First Corinthians in the New Testament, verses 51 and 52: "Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." Read the whole chapter sometime. It will boggle your mind. And don't stop praying. Anyone can change. Even Britney, Nicole, Paris, and Lindsay. Even O.J.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

And they said it wouldn't last

This blog is now in its third day and still going strong. Will it reach its third week, its third month, its third year? Nobody knows. I will say this about myself: I am by nature a procastinator. I tend to put things off, delay the inevitable, wait until the last minute. But this work style of mine always produced superior results in my particular workplace. Of course, it drove the bosses crazy. The pressure I created for myself all by myself seemed to give me just the right incentive to excel. Oh, and work fascinates me; I can sit and look at it for hours (I'm kidding, sort of). I retired from the daily grind seven years ago. My work was of the mental kind, not the physical kind, but I came home each day exhausted and the long commute didn't help. When I retired, I said to my wife, "I don't want to see a sunrise or a rush hour for at least six months." And pretty much, I didn't. I tend to have high highs and low lows. I've learned to control, or at least deal with, mood swings to a certain extent, but at one time my life, internally at least, was a little like a roller coaster. Did I just describe manic-depressive, which these days people call bipolar? And some might even call me obsessive-compulsive. Like my old work buddy who used to rearrange things on my desk just to see how long it would take me to put things back in order, at just the right angle, in parallel lines. Really.

So I'm elated that the blog is in its third day. I said above that nobody knows how long it will last. That's not true. God does. Jehovah God, Yahweh, YHWH, I am that I am, and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Yeshua Ha-Mashiach), and the Holy Spirit Who indwells me, the Paraclete, the One called alongside to help, the One who Jesus said is with you and shall be in you. The Triune God is from everlasting to everlasting and knows the end from the beginning; He knows exactly how long my blog will last.

So now some of you think I am a kook and some of you are quietly praising the Lord. And some of you not so quietly. I'll try not to make the blog all about me, me, me, though. After all, He must increase, but I must decrease.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A rose by any other name

In case you were wondering about the blogname, what rhymes with plague is my name, and no, my name isn't Greg or Craig or Meg, not that there would be anything wrong with that. My name is Robert. Robert Henry, in fact. But no one calls me that. Everyone calls me Bob, except friends from my childhood who still call me Bobby. I hate it when that happens. I guess in Spanish my name would be Roberto Enrico and in French it would be something like Ro-bair Anh-ree. But I digress. It's my surname, Brague, that rhymes with plague. I've been called Brahg (as in Prague, Czechoslovakia, or I guess that should be Czech Republic) and Brah-goo and Brah-gay and Brock (by people who must think the 'g' is a 'q'), Bruh-zhay, and even Buh-rah-guh. Whatever. The most common mispronunciation over the years, though, perhaps because I've lived most of my life in the southern part of the U.S., has been Bragg, as in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, which I believe was named after the Confederate General, Braxton Bragg. Or maybe not.

So, anyway, I tried to devise a way to help people remember the correct pronunciation (well, MY family's pronunciation, at least, because I also learned that there is a river in France called La Brague that is probably pronounced Brahg, given what little I understand about European vowels -- you know, ah, ay, ee, oh, oo). I tried saying that my name "rhymes with ham and egg" but people began spelling it Bregg. I bet Sean Hannity (rhymes with sanity, inanity, manatee) has the same trouble with his first name; I bet he has to tell people that Sean doesn't rhyme with lean, mean, green machine, it rhymes with on the lawn at dawn I saw a fawn. Well, as Ronald Reagan said, there I go again. Digressing, I mean. Actually, he said, "There YOU go again," and he wasn't talking about digressing and he said it in 1980 to Jimmy Carter during a debate. I finally decided to tell people that my name "rhymes with plague" because not only does that give them a leg up on the correct spelling (a mnemonic device, as it were), I think it also conveys just the right level of irritation I have with needing to tell them in the first place.

Cheers.

Friday, September 28, 2007

And so it begins...

Today is Friday, September 28, 2007. I have finally decided to begin my very own blog, and not a minute too soon, either. At sixty-six-and-one-half years old, I may soon be entering the second half of my life. FYI, as they say, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed today at 13885.63, the Nasdaq Composite Index closed at 2701.50, the Standard & Poor 500 closed at 1526.75, the Amex closed at 2410.19, and the Russell 2000 closed at 805.45. A passage from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures In Wonderland comes to mind:

---------------------------------------
'What do you know about this business?' the King said to Alice.

'Nothing,' said Alice.

'Nothing whatever?' persisted the King.

'Nothing whatever,' said Alice.

'That's very important,' the King said, turning to the jury. They were just beginning to write this down on their slates, when the White Rabbit interrupted: 'Unimportant, your Majesty means, of course,' he said in a very respectful tone, but frowning and making faces at him as he spoke.

'Unimportant, of course, I meant,' the King hastily said, and went on to himself in an undertone, 'important--unimportant--unimportant--important--' as if he were trying which word sounded best.

Some of the jury wrote it down 'important,' and some 'unimportant.' Alice could see this, as she was near enough to look over their slates; 'but it doesn't matter a bit,' she thought to herself.
--------------------------------------------

As it happens, I know nothing about either the stock market or the world of blogging. Nothing whatever. However, may it please the court, some things are very important to me, and some things are very unimportant. It is my hope that you, the jury, will enjoy the journey on which we are about to embark. I'll try my best not to bore you along the way. I rest my case.