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:
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`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.'
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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.