Thursday, December 29, 2005

"quiet in the theater or it's gonna get tragic..."

Wow, please tell me you've seen this - and if you haven't, watch it about 5 times. Brilliant.

SNL - "Lazy Sunday" (The Chronicles of Narnia rap)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

one week down, a few months to go

I realize it has only officially been winter for one week. Still, in these quiet days between Christmas and New Year's, when it's supposed to be cold and dark (at least to my way of thinking), there's this little bit of spring piercing through the veil of winter. It was 61 degrees today in Richmond. There's something that happens when the temperature reaches the high 50's and low 60's that allows the air to regain a distinct scent. I stepped out onto the fire escape outside my office and leaned around the corner of the building, and I swear I could smell the magnolia tree a hundred feet away.

I'm going to cut short this uber-sensitive post before sappy violins start playing in the background...but I always look forward to the end of winter when everything thaws and the world is reborn. I just wanted to send a little reminder to all those who feel renewed and uplifted by the advent of spring that it will arrive eventually, even when we're certain it won't amidst 4 inches of snow and ice in mid-February. Until then, we can enjoy the anomaly of these misplaced warm days while they last.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

on the second day of christmas

I have to say, it's been a pretty fun Christmas.

For starters, I'm typing this post on my brand new iMac G5 computer (the one where the whole computer is contained within the 20" monitor). I'm pretty sure it's wrong for me to feel such affection for a piece of machinery...but it's so beautiful. It's like furniture. Or candy. Inexplicably, I just want to bite the corner of the screen...and I expect it to taste like cotton candy.

In the realm of "all things Christmas," the past couple of days have been great - despite the fact that we never actually got around to my mom's over-the-phone reading of "Twelve Bells for Santa" per our yearly tradition. It is, after all, my favorite Christmas book, and no one reads it like my mom. But Christmas Eve dinner at the Rawls's house was as fabulous as ever; the 5:00 Christmas Eve service saw an attendance of around 800; the Messiah was well-sung at 11:00; I slept late Christmas day and put together the work bench that I bought at Lowe's; had a second equally amazing Christmas dinner at the Whitmire's on Christmas afternoon and then joined them in going to see "Walk the Line." Which, by the way, is worth the price of admission - I have to admit, Joaquin and Reece can both sing.

Tonight was the annual Boxing Day dinner thrown by a choir friend, Vienna. It turned out that I was seated next to my friend Antonia, who is a fabulous person with an amazing voice and who, it turns out, is an equally good dancer. Of course, Julie and Antonia and I (all of Thursday Night Post-Choir Drinking infamy) were the last to leave and stood around in the freezing cold making juvenile (yet strangely hilarious) puns on the word "beaver" in the Country Club of Virginia parking lot until midnight.

In completely unrelated news, I finally found this trippy Muppet song that my buddy Joseph played for me my freshman year in college. I don't know why it's been on my mind lately or why I find it so ridiculously funny.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

all quiet on the richmond front

With Christmas looming a couple of days away, things have been really busy and strangely quiet all at the same time. There's a lot going on in my day-to-day existence, but my little corner of Richmond seems to become more deserted by the hour. Colin and Nancy have both gone home for the next couple of weeks. Alyssa and Nate are out of town for the holidays. Erin has gone to Mexico for Christmas. In a way, it's helpful because it's cleared out all distraction so I can get some things accomplished: I had a dentist appointment today and then came home and spent a good bit of the afternoon cleaning the kitchen (specifically, scrubbing down the stove) before going to choir rehearsal. But even choir felt a little emptier than usual, with several people out of town for Christmas.

Included in my own goings-on this week were three events that I've been meaning to write about, but now it's kind of after-the-fact, so I'll just enumerate them briefly:
1. My friend Sarah's ordination to the priesthood on Monday night - great service (liturgically), terrible music. Anytime you take something as cool as Gregorian chant and try to turn it into something as cheesy as "praise music," disaster is bound to strike.
2. My existential crisis after killing a mouse. This is not the first time these two events have occurred in tandem.
3. A certain girl who will remain nameless used the word "wherewithal" in a phone conversation that we had yesterday (and did so effectively, I might add)...and being the vocabulary nerd that I am, I found it stunningly sexy. Is that weird? I don't know.

Song of the week: I'm too lazy and tired at the moment to find it and link to it, but if you have the means (or should I say "wherewithal") to get your hands on Gillian Welch's "Orphan Girl" from her album Revival, then do so. For some reason, this song is sticking to me and won't leave me alone.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

through the wardrobe

I went to go see "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" yesterday afternoon. I've been waiting for a decent live-action version of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia for years. The seven books in the series are my "desert island" books. I re-read them every few years, and each time I'm reminded how believable the characters are and how easy and fluid Lewis's writing style can be. Thankfully, the movie did not disappoint. Was it a mind-blowing film? No. But it was pretty great...and it made me nostalgic for the fantastic imagination of childhood as I watched the action on the screen and simultaneously remembered reading each part.

And besides...Tilda Swinton is pretty smokin' as the White Witch.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

straight on til morning

It's well after 4:00 AM. I've got to go to sleep. However, there was one moment earlier in the night that was comical and surreal at the same time and thus deserves being on record. I somehow managed to smash my knee on the corner of my desk earlier today, and it caused a fairly serious pain (and subsequent limp) in my left leg. Luckily, a W&L friend, Sarah, is in town visiting tonight, and she just had her interview for her medical internship/residency at UVA earlier this afternoon. So there was a moment after dinner and before drinks at the Commercial Taphouse when I was sitting on the rear bumper of my car with the hatch open, both pants legs pulled up over my knees in the 28 degree weather with Sarah squatting on the pavement inspecting my patellae, pushing and prodding in an attempt to diagnose the seriousness of my retarded knee issue. With cars driving by and Colin watching from his own driver's seat, it was simultaneously a medically reassuring and realistically ridiculous moment.

I can't believe I have to work tomorrow. I mean today.

Monday, December 12, 2005

o ephemeral internet

So, I wrote the post below in order to share this bit of holiday humor passed on to me a couple of days ago...only to find that the link no longer exists. I'm going to leave the original post just in case the link is back up sometime in the near future...but O! Internet! With your fleeting humor, how you mock me...


I can't decide if this is hilarious, tasteless, or both:

Watch the volume - you don't want the Burger King guy singing too loudly in your office.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

what's drew got to do with it?

This has been a weekend of perpetual motion.

Friday was Soup Kitchen, coffee with a friend, numerous errands, and the much-anticipated choir Christmas party, where there was a surfeit of wassail, egg nog, and bad singing (ironic for a choir party, no?). Of course, the highlight of the aforementioned musical debacle was twofold: "Jingle Bells" sung in dog barks courtesy of Andrew, Anita, and myself, followed by the much anticipated debut of "Silent Night" in cat harmony. Wow, what a show! What a display! What...what...what the hell? Consummate nerd-dom, I tell you...and extreme self-indulgence.

I managed to get up Saturday morning and join the guys (and girl) of Oak Lane for a 9:00AM-to-noon set of acoustic music at Grove Avenue Coffee and Tea. Three hours of mandolin playing was a great warmup, but why stop there? I spent an hour or so afterward helping my friend Russell with some original recordings he's working on. Then more errand-running and failed attempts at productive Christmas shopping. Tack on a second weekend holiday party Saturday night (I mention it only to construct a facade of popularity) complete with bourbon and ginger and sundry baked goods, and I'd call it a pretty full day.

Today's marathon was brought to you by St. James's Episcopal Church - two services, 9th grade classroom painting/cleaning, and a trip to Williamsburg with the Youth Group...though the trip didn't actually happen because virtually no one showed up. So we played foosball and ate pizza instead. Productive? Not really. Fun anyway and easier than driving back and forth to Williamsburg? Of course.

In other news, I think I'm a little bit in love with Drew Barrymore. There are those who argue her awesomeness...but those people are stupid. More on this later, perhaps.

That's all I've got. It's going to be another crazy pre-Christmas week, so buckle up, buckle down, and stay warm, little campers.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

hello? are you kidding me?

I reaffirmed for myself today how retarded I am on the phone...especially when trying to leave a message. I was calling someone (who will remain nameless for fear that she may one day read this blog) I'd met only once through a friend because I thought it might nice to get together for a drink or something later this week or next. Should be a simple, straightforward call, right? A no-brainer message? Nope. I turn it into an awkward, convoluted, bumbling, talking-too-fast, minute-long ordeal recorded for posterity on her answering machine. Possibly one of the lamest messages in the history of telecommunications. It's one of those moments when you hang up the phone, pause, acknowledge the welling sense of nausea in your stomach and think to yourself, "What the hell was that??"

Anyway, moving on. Arguably the most productive thing I did all day was to fill out this iTunes survey that a friend posted on MySpace. At least it makes me look like I have eclectic (and, I hope, reasonably good?) taste in music. For your edification, I'm including it below - feel free to comment with your own version of the survey.

How many songs: 2,785

Sort by song title:
First Song: 'Deed I Do by Diana Krall
Last Song: Zuiderzee Blues by Django Reinhardt

Sort by time:
Shortest Song: Monologue - The Suckiest Water by Jeff Buckley (Live @ Sin-e, Disc 2) (0:08)
Longest Song: Vox Patris Caelestis, a choral piece by William Mundy (19:19)

Sort by album:
First Album: 1 by The Beatles
Last Album: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips

Top Five Most Played Songs:
1 I Have Seen by Zero 7
2 Ribcage by Elbow
3 Winding Wheel by Ryan Adams
4 Lover, You Should Have Come Over by Jeff Buckley
5 Landed by Ben Folds

First song that comes up on Shuffle:
Hell is Chrome by Wilco

"sex", how many songs come up? 2
"death", how many songs come up? 13
"love", how many songs come up? 112
"you", how many songs come up? 246

Monday, December 05, 2005

first snowfall

I love the first snow of the season. It's usually the first day that I drag my long overcoat out of the closet and wrap up in a scarf to brave the elements. The uniformity of whiteness covering the whole city somehow feels universal, as if objects, places, and people that usually seem completely unrelated suddenly become connected under this ubiquitous blanket of frost.

So tonight, I'm going to take advantage of this quiet snowiness and make an attempt to go to bed before midnight for a change. I know the snow will all melt tomorrow, but it's nice for tonight, anyway.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

crossing the weekend finish line

My brain is fried. Went to a dental/med school party with some friends on Friday night. Saturday morning bluegrass rehearsal with Oak Lane. Singing gig for a choir fundraiser Saturday night. Three services of singing today, with youth group tacked onto the end. I can only think in lists, so here are some random thoughts from the weekend:

1. I love Advent, and I love the discrepancy between the liturgical season of Advent and the secular "shopping season" of Christmas. We had our Lessons and Carols service tonight - every year, it really marks the beginning of the season for me. An hour of quiet reflection and music in an otherwise hectic time of year.

2. Did you see the Duke v. Va. Tech game tonight? I mean, did you SEE THAT?!?! Absolutely ridiculous and insane - who makes that kind of shot under that kind of pressure?

3. Just out of curiosity, I wonder how many pounds of fur my dog has shed all over my house in the past two and a half years? There is Scout hair everywhere, no matter how often I sweep and vacuum.

4. How come recycling only gets picked up once every two weeks? If you forget a week, you have a month's worth of recycling to put out. And that's a huge pain in the ass.

5. It's supposed to snow around here tonight...but Richmond is right in the "wintry mix" band on the radar. It always snows in Ashland, rains in Petersburg - and we get slush. Sweet. Maybe it will be enough to keep me out of staff meeting tomorrow morning.

I'm going to bed. It's been a fun, busy weekend...but I'm done.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

two cakes may be too many

This post is for my roommate, Colin, because today is his 27th birthday. One of his professors made a point of saying, "Good Lord, you're almost 30." Probably not what you want to hear as you transition from your mid-twenties to your late twenties.

In any case, celebration abounds. Last night Colin, Nancy, Alyssa, Nate and I made the epic journey to that den of gluttony, the Super King Buffet. Three horseshoe-shaped tables of all kinds of Chinese food, fresh sushi, crab legs, a Mongolian stir-fry "made-to-order" bar, and the worst desserts ever. (Seriously, ever.) I had five plates of delicious grossness. And Nate almost ate a chicken foot. Rock on. For those keeping track, last night's gifts from Alyssa and Nate included a chocolate cake with white icing, a plastic egg full of "Angel Snot" and some Slang Flashcards. Yeah, for real. Possibly the greatest collection of presents I've ever seen.

Tonight after choir, Nancy and I had planned to make a if the one we already had wasn't enough. Not only did we make said cake, Nancy truly came up with the cake-decorating goods: those saccharinely sweet (in so many ways) cartoon butterflies, frogs, and snails made of sugar, all lined up underneath the cleverest of slogans spelled out in blue sugar-gel across the chocolate icing (perhaps you can make out this bit of genius in the picture). Ever the virtuoso giver of gifts, Nancy offered up timeless classics like Fun Dip for everyone, Gobstoppers, a blue Ring Pop that actually lights up, and a huge smiley face helium balloon. There was a book, too, but that's a little more personal and less ridiculous than the pile of candy.

So cheers, Colin, and happy birthday. Hope this post doesn't make you self-conscious, because we do know how you roll: uncomfortable.

Monday, November 28, 2005

chocolate chip cookie + 10 seconds in microwave = heaven

This has been a fantastic long weekend: Thursday, Thanksgiving. Friday, my day off (though I did have to drive to D.C.). Saturday, two hours of soccer (actually played, not watched). Sunday, two services to sing but no youth group. Monday, office closed post-Thanksgiving. Beautiful. Coming off of three short work days which followed a week in Mexico, I feel as if November has treated me pretty graciously.

Highlights of the weekend were many...some big, some small. Winning all five games of soccer on Saturday was pretty nice. Sunday night I agreed to cook dinner for my friend Nancy (and let's just say that Nancy has a very discerning palate when it comes to many foods), and she not only ate the peanut stir fry without gagging, she actually liked it. Or so she claims - and I don't think she's a very effective liar. I spent most of the day today cleaning the house and just generally getting my act together, happy that I finally had a day get nagging little chores done. And all the while, I kept stealing the chocolate chip cookies that Colin's mom had made and microwaving them for 10 seconds to make the chocolate melt. Amazing. FYI, this same principle can (and should) be applied to day-old Krispy Kreme donuts.

And the greatest thing about having Monday off is that the week is just that much shorter - starting on Tuesday means I have another 3-day work week to look forward to. No complaints here.

Friday, November 25, 2005

counting my blessings...a little too late

OK, technically it's the day after Thanksgiving and I have yet to write the promised "what I'm thankful for" post. But I had an amazing Thanksgiving with one of my favorite surrogate families in Richmond, and I didn't get home until late last night. Besides, I'm still thankful for all of these things today as much as I was yesterday. Here is an insanely incomplete list:

1. My family. All of them. Even the crazy ones.
2. My house (my own house), modest by U.S. standards but a castle by world standards.
3. The fact that I have food in my refrigerator and pantry.
4. My dog Scout - what would I do without her?
5. My job(s) at the church. It has its trying moments, but on the whole it's pretty amazing. And so are the people I work with.
6. All of my friends, new and old, near and far. Trying to name them or categorize them would be a fruitless endeavor, as I would have far too much to say about each one.
7. The gift of music. Where would the world be without music??
8. The change in seasons, year after year.
9. Most importantly, the fact that my heart is beating and my lungs are taking in air (and that my brain is aware of these two facts). Both hands and feet work, as do my eyes and ears. Sure, I could be in a little bit (OK, a lot) better shape, but I'm here and I'm healthy, and that's the most important thing of all.
10. Oh yeah...I almost forgot to be thankful for college football, especially for Auburn beating Georgia and Alabama in two consecutive weeks. War Eagle!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

at least we have the memories...and an extra bottle of tequila

Back to real life this week. Mexico was unspeakably great. There are those vacations (like the ones you take to Europe) that require a great deal of lengthy travel to somewhat exotic and hard to get places...places where you feel as if you have to see and do everything to make getting there worthwhile. And there are vacations that require very little - perhaps nothing more than lying on a beach, or reading a book....and while they are pleasant and relaxing, they can get boring quickly. Mexico was a perfect balance of the two. There was lots to see and do, lots of things to experiences - new places, new language, new food and drink. But it wasn't so hard to get to Mexico that I felt compelled to "go, go, go" all the time to make sure I did and saw everything. In the mornings, we had big, leisurely breakfasts, followed by some site-seeing, shopping, more eating and perhaps a beer or two. In the afternoon, there was plenty of time to relax, read, nap, read some more, nap some more, etc., before having cocktails pre-dinner. I loved the pace of life, and if it weren't for the fact that (1) the water from the tap is unclean, or (2) I don't have a job in San Miguel, or (3) I don't speak Spanish (yet), I think I could live in Mexico.

I'll try to keep brief the litany of cool stuff that we saw, did, tasted, and bought. But a few things should be mentioned. Like the fireworks at 5:00 AM the first night we were there. Or the mariachi funeral procession that passed in front of the B&B wall one afternoon. Or the masked fiesta that took place one evening in the church square down the street for no apparent reason. I ate huitlacoche (I think that's how you spell it), a black corn fungus that's a delicacy. I tried fish tacos, and variations on an egg/refried bean/bread/salsa breakfast. I saw the artwork of Diego Rivera in Guanajuato, and a Mexican market (that happens every Tuesday) with everything from remote controls to shoes to religious icons to live chickens to bicycle parts. I ate ice cream almost every day. I learned the different kinds of tequila and drank the Don Julio reposado straight with a chaser of sangrita, a combination of bloody mary mix and orange juice. I had an hour long full body massage for less than $30 US. And I got to spend a great 7 days with my family - sometimes a blast, sometimes an uphill battle, but never a dull moment.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. So many things to be thankful for...but that's another post altogether. For now, it's bedtime - gotta get up early to sing for the Thanksgiving service tomorrow morning.

Monday, November 14, 2005

gringos in paradise

I've changed my mind about heaven. No mansions, no white robes, no fluffy clouds and stuff. I'm pretty sure it looks more like a small Mexican town, where tequila and beer are plentiful, people smile a lot, there are fireworks on any given day, and there are costumed fiestas full of dancing and music for no real reason at all.

There are moments when visiting here in San Miguel de Allende is a bit like being a member of the Griswald family in European Vacation: a family stroll through the market yesterday found all of us wearing near-matching straw cowboy hats that smacked of the embroidered matching berets worn by America's favorite vacationing family from the movies. Cheesy (and unavoidable) gringo moments aside, this place is pretty near heaven.

Things are cheap. A black leather belt for less than $9. Cowboy hat for about $12. A leather/metal cross for wall decoration $5. Beer and ice cream each about $1. More than anything, it's near perfect just strolling around town. Steep up-and-down roads, narrow and cobblestoned. Brightly painted walls and buildings. A general sense of stillness. Comfortably warm during the day, comfortably cool at night - so much so that the weather is almost unnoticeable. Never too hot or too cold.

I have to admit, we are completely dependent on my dear sister. Her fluent Spanish is a Godsend. My parents and I are like three old, crippled people in wheelchairs relying on Leslie to push us around - we can't express anything without her help. It is so frustrating being unable to speak the language, and I am becoming more and more certain that I will make a concerted effort to learn Spanish in earnest when I get back to the States. In the meantime, I remain in awe of and dependent upon Leslie's language capability. (She has also been really helpful telling me about photography stuff, but more on that in a later post.)

There have been a number of fun (and funny) moments so far, but too many to recount now. The margarita sitting next to the keyboard is getting warm, and we leave for dinner in about 10 minutes. I miss home a little bit, but I'm pretty sure I could stay here for a long, long time and not be unhappy.

Friday, November 11, 2005

running to stand still

I feel as if I've been running around all day without really accomplishing much of anything. My morning was shot because I slept late after staying up until 1:30 (again) watching Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. Such a great film. Fantastic, controlled acting by the inimitable King of Badass Westerns. I hadn't seen the movie in years, and it turned out to be well worth the delayed bedtime.

So tomorrow I leave for my Mexico vaction - heading to San Miguel de Allende with my family. We're staying at Casa Orquidea, a bed and breakfast owned by a friend of ours. It looks like a pretty great place...and of course my mind is already halfway there. I did my usual Friday volunteering at the Soup Kitchen this morning, then had a nice lunch with a W&L friend of mine who moved to town recently. Stopped by work for a while (mostly just to play foosball one last time before I head out of town). Suddenly I realized it was 3:30 and I really hadn't done a thing. Haven't packed. Haven't finished the work I need to do before leaving. Haven't even finished doing laundry. I'm also heading out of here in about an hour to go see the St. Christopher's/St. Catherine's production of "Into the Woods" tonight. My plane leaves at 7:45 tomorrow morning. I'm doing the math and figuring out that time is very, very short. Looks like it will be another late night.

I'm hoping to be able to post at least once or twice while I'm away, though pictures will probably have to wait until I get back.

Hasta! (I say that as if I have any clue about speaking Spanish. Which I don't.)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

my cup runneth over

I just spent the past hour trying to fix the damn downstairs toilet, which runs incessantly these days. This attempt at home improvement was made slightly more challenging by the couple of post-choir-rehearsal glasses (or I should say "plastic cups") of wine I enjoyed. Unfortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful. I did manage to replace the piece that I was working on, but apparently it wasn't the root of the problem. Water is still leaking around the little flap, taunting me with every gurgle and drip. Damn you, toilet leak!! By the way, you know when you open up the tank on the back of the toilet and there's that verticle piece in the tank that makes all the magic happen? Yeah, did you know that's called a "ballcock"? BALLCOCK?!?!? Hello? Does anyone else find that funny, or is just because I'm, like, 12?

Anyway, I have somehow managed to stay up until almost 1:00 AM again tonight. Not sure how I've gotten on this terrible sleep cycle lately. But the good news is that I only have one more day of work before my day off Friday, then I'm headed to Mexico Saturday for a week of vacation with my family. First time I will have seen my parents since last Thanksgiving. Sweet, sweet vacation. There will be much resting. And lounging. And reading. And tequila. Oh, yes, tequila.

I'll leave you with this random thought. If you belong to any of the major world religions - be you Christian, Hindu, Muslim, or Jew - and you haven't watched Bill Murray's "Groundhog Day" lately and thought about the theological implications (trust me, it works on multiple level for any and all of the aforementioned dogmas), I exhort you to do so sooner rather than later. Just ignore the fact that Andie McDowell is a terrible actress.

That is all. Class dismissed.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

everything in its right place

Wow. I have been a total slacker about posting this week. I've sat down to write on two or three occasions but seem to have gotten sidetracked each time.

In all truth, it was not a terribly eventful week. We've hit a little lull in the calendar at the church, that small period of quiet between the whirlwind first two months of the program year and the start of the Advent season. Wednesday and Thursday passed as usual, and both found me reluctant to work and not terribly excited about choir rehearsals.

Friday, on the other hand, was one of those rare days in which things just seemed to fall in the right place, as if I had to work at making things go wrong. As easy as it is to bitch about the times when everything seems to fall apart, it's nice to recognize that there are days when the karmic pendulum swings decidedly the other way and manages to maintain some sort of cosmic balance. No need for extensive details, but the weather was stunning, the house was clean, and we had a fantastic group of people over in the evening (including a few I hadn't seen in quite a while). There were Jell-O shots of Colin's making - four flavors of varying consistency - and a beer pong set-up featuring the Champagne of Beers on the island in the kitchen. It warmed my heart to see the other two W&L folks in attendance reach for the cans of High Life over the bottles of Saranac, Yuengling, Bud Light, and Miller Lite saying, "I prefer it!" I, of course, managed to uphold absolute decorum as the model church employee, pausing mid-Jell-O shot to answer a question from across the room as to my specific job title: "Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries," I gurgled before slurping down the remainder of the lemon Jell-O in my plastic Dixie Cup. The irony was completely lost on me for at least five minutes.

Back to the grind tomorrow, but with a pretty great weekend behind me...and more to look forward to in a few days, as I leave for a week-long trip to Mexico with my family on Saturday.

If you haven't heard it: Give a listen to Ben Folds' newest album, Songs for Silverman. Especially "Landed" - ridiculously catchy.

Humor for the day: Hip-Hop Yoda. Is there anything he can't do?? What a Jedi!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

all saints' day

Today is All Saints' Day. For my those of my faith, it is a day of remembrance.

2,040 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since the beginning of the war in March 2003. 247 soldiers have died in Afghanistan. Today, after a noon Healing Eucharist, we at St. James's stood on the steps of the church and read aloud the names and ages of every one of those 2,287 soldiers. It is almost impossible to imagine how large a number that actually is until it has been broken down one by one, life by life. While one of the steeple bells tolled a single note over and over, we began reading in turns at 12:45 P.M. The bell stopped as we finished reading the list at five minutes to 3:00. The sound of names and ages tumbled into the air like dead leaves kicked up by the wind.
A few passersby stopped and stood for the better part of an hour - some even longer - listening and absorbing. Others avoided passing directly in front of the church. Still others walked by with eyes on the ground and hands dug into pockets, kicking through the leaves that had begun to pile up without so much as a hint of acknowledgment. The effect of this ceaseless barrage of names was an alternating current of numbness and overwhelming sadness. Some moments so real and immediate, even urgent...other moments sounding like a freight train rushing past, unable to slow or stop.
I don't know how else to describe the afternoon other than to say it was one of the most authentic experiences in which I've ever taken part.

Monday, October 31, 2005

all treats, no tricks

I thought tonight was going to be a total loss in the Halloween department. Nary a trick-or-treater - and thus a nearly-untouched bowl of candy - until the doorbell finally rang (and Scout freaked out) around 8:20. These two kids already had a quarter of a pillowcase of candy each. So they got to add to their stash, I got to say I had at least one trick-or-treating family...everybody's a winner.

Meanwhile, I feel as if there are still bits of weekend residue left unmentioned, a few loose ends yet untied....

First, the interesting lunch conversation I had with Andrew Corsello. We were continuing a dialogue about music and silence that we had begun the weekend before at the retreat. The gist of the conversation is summed up in my October 18th post - namely, that the ability to record music has completely changed the way we think about music and the way music affects us. I should mention that Andrew is a pianist of near-professional caliber on top of being an exceptional journalist. He had the opportunity to interview several of the world's greatest pianists (Emmanuel Ax, Stephen Hough, Sviatoslav Richter, etc.) for a GQ article a couple of years ago and was kind enough to pass on a partial transcript of his interview with Stephen Hough. There's a great portion in there about how one loses taste for things when stimulation is unending. Comparing the easy access of recorded music to a constant eating of chocolate, Hough says, "I adore chocolate, yes, but all these musical influences — it's like having a chocolate mouthwash. You can not keep the same excitement for the flavor." Consequently, I decided to spend a couple of days avoiding music whenever possible. The effects of this self-inflicted musical famine were twofold: I found that a few moments of quiet, especially while driving, really did re-awaken my dulled senses. It forces alertness. And when I finally sat down to break the musical fast, it was deliberate. The music was beautiful. It tasted like candy again.

On a completely different topic, I was planning to launch into a much-too-lengthy description of a bizarre Friday night and Saturday...but it's really summed up fairly simply. The Friday night band party/Halloween kegger was in a weird low-ceilinged second floor practice space overlooking some small parking lot downtown. It basically consisted of costumes ranging from a guy wrapped entirely in duct tape to a frightening Smurfette, not to mention a U2 cover band that was dead on...except for the singer. The party was still in crescendo when we took off about 2:00 AM. The mandatory next-morning greasy breakfast commenced around 11:00 Saturday. There was a waitress we thought was really cute until (and maybe even after?) we noticed she was slightly cross-eyed; there was a tech geek/serial killer-looking guy sitting at the next table downing Budweisers; Colin dissected a botched Western omelette and removed all the mushroom "tumors" with surgical precision; and the rest of the day was devoted to college football and not yardwork. Pretty satisfying.

Happy Halloween, one and all.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

complete and utter stupidity

There are so many things to write about over the past few days: a really interesting conversation over lunch with my friend Andrew Corsello, who writes for GQ Magazine; a surreal Halloween party last night complete with kegs, costumes, and local indie bands; a day of upsets and near upsets in college football; etc. etc.

But that will all have to wait. Right now, I just want to know one thing: WHY do they make film cannisters the exact same diameter as vacuum cleaner tubes??? I nearly blew up a perfectly good home appliance trying to clean the dust from under my dresser. And now I have a vacuum cleaner with a film cannister jammed halfway up the tube, like Augustus Gloop in the river of chocolate.

Yeah, that's right, I threw out the Wonka reference. Sweet.

relevant quote: "She's gone from suck to blow!" -Spaceballs

Friday, October 28, 2005

dig deep

I am trying to dig up my front yard and plant grass so I can have a real lawn to replace the overabundance of weeds and wiregrass that I have called a front yard for the past three years. I've been meaning to do this for the entire month of September...and October...and now I'm about 4-6 weeks late getting it done. (Done? Who am I kidding? I've barely started.) And now I'm sitting inside at the computer because I'm tired and I've only dug up a quarter of the grass so far. I very well may end up with a mudpit for a front yard for the duration of winter until I can replant in the spring.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

oh say can you see

In a stunning move of Un-Americanism, I managed to watch all of two whole innings of the entire baseball post-season. And they happened to be the last two of the Series. Frankly (and here's the Un-American part), I couldn't have cared less. I know that's terrible, and I'm happy for the people of Chicago that the White Sox have won for the first time since 1917, but I just did not - could not - get excited about this Series.

On a more somber, unrelated but largely more important note: today someone sent me a link to an interactive page on the New York Times website entitled A Look at Those Who Died in Iraq. It memorializes the 2,000 Americans who have died in the Iraq War since March 2003 with a photo of each and brief biographical information when you move the mouse over each picture. To see all those faces - 80-90% of them younger than I - really puts the death toll of the war in perspective. Not only does it drive home just how many 2,000 is, it makes those 2,000 feel much more personal and immediate, not just an ambiguous and theoretical list of casualties.

The article has a subheading that reads, "Since the war in Iraq began in March of 2003, about 2,000 service members have died. The dead come from all branches of the armed services and represent the highest toll since the Vietnam War." I know it's not healthy or useful to dwell excessively on the negative aspects of our current state of being - but I feel as if these things should not be forgotten or ignored, either. We are so numb to disaster of late that most of it seems surreal. But these faces woke me up again.

I guess it's like staring at the sun: you can only look at it for so long until you're blind to it, and you have to turn to other distractions. I suppose baseball would have been as good as any.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

pictures of the weekend

Knox and I preparing for the retreat program.

The youth (with spray-dyed hair) before the North Mountain hike.

The ascent begins...

Climbing the rock formation at the halfway point up the mountain.

Sort of a "Blair Witch" vibe.

The (non-)view from the peak.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

"lights will guide you home..."

This weekend has yielded a plethora of fun and exciting activities, including (but not limited to):

- A cumulative 2 1/2 hours spent at the Green Valley Book Fair near Harrisonburg - I'm now $30 poorer and 8 books richer.
- A 1,200-foot, seven-mile round-trip hike up North Mountain near the border of West Virginia, including a wall of fog at the peak and an unintentional "detour" that brought us out of the woods a little further down the road than we planned.
- A great three-hour discussion with 40+ people about finding spiritual themes in contemporary popular music genres.
- Smoking two cigars.
- Drinking 5 different kinds of Scotch, but only to moderate degrees of excess (if that's not too much of an oxymoron).
- "Butt buns" (so named for their "cracked" appearance) with apple butter and pecan pie.
- A sky full of stars with no city lights to muck things up.
- Having a church service outdoors at the Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration at Shrine Mont in the beautiful fall weather.
- Eating at Bottom's Up Pizza in Richmond for the first time ever in four years of living in this city.
- Managing to avoid the score of the Auburn vs. LSU game for 24 hours, only to watch it on TiVo and see Auburn lose in overtime on a missed field goal off the uprights (this would fall into the "exciting" but not so much "fun" category).
- Calling my dad to wish him a happy 59th birthday.

And now, after 72 hours of perpetual motion, I am finally home. Exhausted, but mercifully close to my bed, as I am in danger of ending up face down on the keyboard. Pictures of the weekend to follow tomorrow, I hope.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

16 down, 84 to go...

It was brought to my attention today - by a friend who will remain anonymous for reasons that will become apparent momentarily - that Time Magazine has released what it calls "The Complete List", an all-time top 100 English language novels from 1923 to the present. Why 1923? Not sure. Seems arbitrary to me - were there not any good novels in 1922? Or perhaps there were too many? What I do know is that I have only read 16 of the aformentioned novels....and said anonymous friend has read 22. That's like 30% or 40% more than me (I think - apparently I'm not very good at math, either). I feel like a failed English major, as if someone has suddenly uncovered my dirty little secret: I'm a slow reader and I haven't actually read all those great classic novels that one should read when one has a degree in English Literature. I'd say .160 is a pretty poor batting average, no?

I feel as if I'm getting dumber by the day, and this is not helping. I best get to reading, I suppose...

something wicked this way comes

I was watching the bit on the news about this Hurricane Wilma thing, as it is now the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic. I'd say that's a pretty bold statement, and one full of foreboding for our favorite Sunshine State. Seriously, how much can Florida take in two years? Mother Nature seems to have some personal vendetta against Floridians. I'm fearful that my parents will have to evacuate, even though they're in northern Florida along the panhandle. And what about my favorite little camper in Miami? Will she ride out the storm in style or have to flee north?

What's most unbelievable is that there's still more than a month left in hurricane season. Yikes.

Close eyes. Cross fingers. Hold breath. Say prayers.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

the listening unto deafness

This weekend my buddy Knox and I are leading a 60-person retreat at Shrine Mont (the Episcopal retreat center near the border of West Virginia) with the theme "God on the FM Dial: Finding the Sacred in Secular Music." We spent a good bit of the night talking through tunes and artists - U2, Nickel Creek, Coldplay, Steve Earle, Ben Folds, etc. There are lots of cool specifics that we discussed...for example, the Coldplay song "A Message" takes it's first two lines (both melody AND lyrics) from the Anglican hymn "My Song Is Love Unknown," tune by John Ireland. Kind of interesting, regardless of its meaning or your own personal belief set.

But the thing that really struck me is how music can simultaneously be so powerful and so inconsequential. Think about it. A little over 100 years ago, you only heard music if someone was actually sitting in front of you playing an instrument or singing. How often might that have happened then? Once a day? Once a week? Think about how often you hear music now. It's in our cars. Our offices. Our bedrooms. The elevator. The grocery store. Every minute. We have stereos, iPods, radios, everywhere - you can't escape it without tremendous effort.

This is the greatest triumph and greatest tragedy to befall the transcendent power of music. On the one hand, how amazing is it that we can hear the clearest, most beautiful recordings of our favorite pieces any time we want with a mere flick of the finger on our iPods? On the other hand, the fact that music is so ubiquitous dilutes its power and turns it into a sort of white noise soundtrack to our lives, the static that we tend to tune out. I can't tell you how many times I've been driving along and had no idea what I've been listening to for the past 15 minutes - not because it was bad, but because I was just ignoring it.

So if you're reading this and you can relate, do something tomorrow: try to go the whole day without hearing music. Turn off your car stereo, don't turn on the radio at work, mute the TV during commmercials...and before you go to bed, sit down and listen to something really great, and do it with intention and purpose. Doesn't matter if it's Bach or the Clash, Jeff Buckley or Patsy Cline. Whatever moves you, take the time to hear it as if you're listening for the first time.

Personal favorite for today: Beethoven's 7th Symphony 2nd Movement

Monday, October 17, 2005

thank you very much, i'll be here all week

The tone of the day was really set from the first moment I couldn't open my eyes when the alarm went off at 7:30...and then again at 7:40, 7:50, and 8:00. Despite the fact that it was a perfect weather day, the little annoyances of the morning seemed to pile higher and higher until I couldn't see over them. And after a two-hour nonsensical and completely pointless staff meeting, I walked into my office realizing that I was already in an absolutely rotten mood before I even turned to the pile of work that (somehow) has to get finished this week. It was quite obvious that today was a Monday.

Based on the day's trials and tribulations, I have made two rules:

Rule #1 - if you want to buy/use a cool techno-toy, you should be required to pass a basic electronic competency test before you start messing around with it. People act like finding a cure for cancer is easier than downloading pictures from a digital camera.

Rule #2 - Basic meeting etiquette says if it doesn't have to do with the whole group, talk about it later and quit wasting my time. I don't need to hear about issues with the parking deck or who's going to set up seventy-five chairs. End of story.

So...a little bitter today? Perhaps. But I'm feeling better after partaking in Capital Ale House's $1 Burger Monday Nights and subsequently hanging around the house Lebowski style (sans white russian) in my bathrobe for the rest of the night.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

thank God for nature - technology sucks

I spent the afternoon at Ashland Berry Farm - about 20 miles north of Richmond - out in the pumpkin patch picking pumpkins (how's that for alliteration?). Ashland Berry Farm has this great thing around Halloween where you take a hay ride out into their pumpkin patch and gather as many pumpkins as you can carry for $20. The deal is you can have several friends help out, and only one of you has to be able to hold all the pumpkins and take three steps. So we made it an afternoon youth group event and gathered 32 pumpkins, which four of us were able to hold and carry. The plan is to give them to Highland Springs Elementary School in Henrico County for the kids to decorate their classrooms - not a bad contribution for $80 and an afternoon spent enjoying another beautiful fall day.

So that was the upside of the afternoon. The downside was trying to download all the pictures from Ben's camera and transfer them to my computer via Hello, this new P2P picture-sharing software. That, coupled with my complete ineptitude at trying to add a simple picture to my profile on this blog (an hour isn't too long to spend on that, right?), has completely wilted any confidence I might have had in my technological savvy.

Yea Nature. Boo techno-hassle. Let's hear it for the pumpkin fiends...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

in the beginning

Admittedly, I've said a lot of negative things about blogs in the past.

While they are sometimes funny and occasionally moving, they are often self-indulgent, narcissistic pieces of exhibitionist drivel. So, of course, I've decided I have to have one, too. Not so much because I need the whole world to know what I'm up to daily (though the thought of a cyber-stalker or two does feed my own self-indulgent, narcissistic, exhibitionist tendencies), but primarily because I suck at writing when I know I'm the only one who will read it. Ironically, it makes me far too self-conscious -- like hearing your own voice on your answering machine. Even if no one actually reads this, the fact that they could gives me a little more focus and context.

That being said...I got nothing else at the moment. It's Saturday, high 70's, cloudless. Near perfect. I'm going to go enjoy it while I can.