Tuesday, December 26, 2006

blogging from birmingham

Five years. That's how long it's been since I was last home for Christmas. Hard to know what to expect outside of my Richmond Christmas routine.

Scout and I got into Birmingham late Friday night after a drive of nearly 11 hours. Leslie showed up Saturday morning delerious from three hours of sleep and an early-morning flight. And, as she is wont to do, she immediately slips into her terribly un-PC imitation of an Indian immigrant, announcing a Merry Christmas to all with the holiday promise of "Uncle Ghandi's goat ball stew." We decide to give our parents a break and make a trip to the nearest mall with every intention of picking up last-minute gifts to round out our Christmas shopping. We actually waltz into Parisian and buy one of the first bracelets we see, a perfect Grandmother gift. Christmas shopping never felt so easy or so smooth.

But then we get sucked in by the sale at Banana Republic. Not so much for other people - mostly for ourselves.

Chris: Hey. I need your opinion. Do you like this sweater?
Leslie: Yeah. Is it on sale?
Chris: Used to be $70, on sale for $45.
Leslie: Sweet. Give it to me - I still need to get you a present. Merry Christmas. Act surprised when you open it.
After shopping, a leisurely mid-afternoon catch-up lunch with my friend Charles (of Jamaican wedding fame) turns into a delightful two hour affair involving as much drinking as eating. Fun though it is, this puts me and Leslie in the precarious position of having polished off two bottles of wine before dropping by to visit our grandmother. We find this situation strangely hilarious, and we call to tell Grandmother we'll be by to see her momentarily. In the retirement home parking lot, Leslie can't stop laughing - she gets out of the car red-eyed, dancing like a monkey, snorting uncontrollably. This is not abnormal behavior for my sister, though perhaps it is not the ideal time for such antics. In a move to stall for time and gain some semblence of decorum and composure, I open the trunk and stand there staring into it, trying to stop laughing myself. "What are you doing?" Les asks. "We're not taking any presents inside." "I know," I answer, "I'm trying to kill a little time so that woman by the front door will walk away...I don't want her to see us and think we're crazy." Needless to say, this only exacerbates Leslie's behavior.

Saturday night we go to a party thrown by a high school friend of ours. Some drinks are had. We decide it's time to go home when Les glances in the mirror and is faced with the result of too little sleep and too much wine: deep-seated black circles under her eyes that look like smeared mascara. The ensuing hangover on Sunday morning - Christmas Eve morning - goes something like this:

[7:30 A.M. on Sunday. Leslie and I are sleeping on the twin beds in the guest room.]
Leslie: Ow.
Chris: What's up?
Leslie: My head. I need Alka Seltzer.
Chris: Why not Advil?
Leslie: Do you have Advil?
Chris: No.
Leslie: Alka Seltzer. Headache, stomach, all in one. I'm calling Mom.
Chris: What?
Leslie [picking up her cell phone]: I'm calling Mom.
Chris: I'm sorry, what? Upstairs? That's ridiculous. Just walk upstairs and find some.
[15 seconds of silence. A phone starts ringing upstairs.]
Chris: Dude, tell me you're NOT calling Mom.
[silence, followed by a second ring upstairs]
Leslie [into the phone]: Hi. Merry Christmas! [pause] I know, but it IS Chrismas Eve. [pause] Um...do you have any Alka Seltzer? I have a headache the size of Montana.
Leslie eventually goes back to sleep. Dad slips out to Walgreens and leaves a box of extra strength Alka Seltzer on the bedside table so Les will see it when she wakes up. Sure enough, she opens her eyes and acts as if someone has left her a small fortune, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. She drops two tablets into her water and says, "Plop plop fizz fizz...it's like a snowstorm in my glass." She smiles and waves at the glass the way an awe-struck kid at Disney World stares and waves at Mickey Mouse. "Hi Alka Seltzer."

I spend Christmas Eve afternoon catching up with a few friends. A long-overdue, much-needed lunch with Baldwin (who always maintains great perspective), an afternoon beer with Ashley, Jay, and James. Mom makes a great Christmas Eve dinner, a sequel to Thanksgiving every bit as good as the original (think The Godfather and The Godfather II). My grandmother stays in our guest bedroom on Christmas Eve and is terrified that we will wake up before her in the morning and open our stockings without her. She stays behind as we leave for midnight mass around 10:00 p.m. I try to explain to her that she is going to bed now, and we will be roughly four hours behind her - there's no way we're waking up before she does. But this does little to assuage her fear of missing out on the Christmas morning party.

Christmas Day is a whirlwind. Sure enough, my grandmother is awake, showered, dressed, and packed by the time we get up about 8:30...and she's surprised we haven't been up for hours already. Apparently she has temporarily forgotten that we're not 7 and thus don't wake up at 6:00 a.m. on Christmas anymore. But all is well as we unpack our stockings and open presents and eat our traditional Christmas brunch late in the morning. It's stress-free and everyone is happy.

I crash out about 12:30 in the afternoon and sleep for an hour or so. It gives me just enough energy to make the evening rounds catching up with folks: the Abele/Hall's, then the Smith's party (a 29-year Christmas Night tradition!), followed by dinner at the Moore's before Leslie and I go back to the Smith's and on to the Abele/Hall's again. We get home at 1:00-something in the morning to a very enthusiastic Scout, who has eaten most of the ham bone I gave her before we left earlier in the night. As we start turning off lights and locking up the house, Leslie says, "Your dog was manic when we got in. Should I give her a Lexapro?"

I tell her I can only think that's a bad idea.

Here's the thing: It's not the same Christmas I've grown accustomed to over the past five years. It's not even the same Christmas that I knew as a kid - my parents live in a townhouse now; there's no Christmas Eve party at my aunt and uncle's house; there are fewer of us on Christmas morning (a mere 5-person gathering). But it's Christmas nonetheless. Not quite like any other one that's come before it...but Christmas nonetheless. And, in some ways, maybe even better than the old ones.

Wherever you are, I hope your Christmas has been a happy one....or, at the very least, eventful and memorable.

Merry Christmas!
(And happy Boxing Day/St. Stephen's Day.)

Friday, December 15, 2006

the anomaly of drinking pina coladas in december

I am under no illusion that the "resort" Jamaica I experienced last weekend is the real Jamaica. I know that much of rural Jamaica is poor and not tourist-friendly (though the topography seems to be stunning no matter where you are). For what it was, though - a three night stay in a 5-star Jamaican resort - the trip was phenomenal. A tropical vacation in December makes it hard to remember that Christmas is only a couple of weeks away.

Half Moon Resort in Rose Hall (just outside of Montego Bay) sprawls over 400 acres along the Jamaican coast. The amazing thing is that this land spreads out horizontally to give the resort two miles of beachfront property. The occasion for the trip was a destination wedding of a good friend of mine from high school. He and his fiance booked a room in the main resort building on the beach. The rest of us stayed in villas near the east end of the property a couple of hundred yards up the road from the beach.

In my mind, a tropical "villa" conjures images of quaint hut-like structures with beach decor. Roomy, but humble. Maybe a grass thatched roof. Not so. The villas are 5, 6, or 7 bedroom white colonial manor houses, each with a private pool and two golf carts for driving around the resort. The only photo I have of our villa is below. Despite the darkness, I think it's still apparent that these were pretty posh accommodations.

As if this weren't enough, each villa is staffed with a cook, a butler, and a housekeeper. We took our butler shopping with us to help us get food on the first afternoon. Our cook, Paula, prepared and served meals that we requested at times appointed by us. We would leave little notes on the stove top at night that read something like this:
We would love to have breakfast around 9 a.m. - eggs, bacon, sausage, and french toast.
Thanks - see you in the morning!"
How is one supposed to feel about such an opulent luxury? Grateful? Guilty? It seems presumptuous, but at the same time it feels perfectly natural given the setting. In reality, is it over-the-top? Decadent? Oh yeah. But did we love it? Absolutely. I thought of my own squalid kitchen, still messy when I left it at 5:00 a.m. last Friday...and I laughed when I imagined transposing this waitstaff scenario to my own house in Richmond, leaving a note for my roommate:
I have to be at work at 9:00. Eggs and bacon would be nice, perhaps with a side of cereal. Save the buttermilk pancakes for later in the week.
8:15 would be perfect.

The wedding itself was beautiful, despite a rain shower two hours before the ceremony that threatened to dampen more than just wedding-day spirits. With about 50 people in attendance and the sun falling toward the horizon at 4:30, it was everything a destination wedding is supposed to be.

The only unfortunate piece to the whole trip was that I didn't bring my camera. Or, more accurately, I thought I had lost it before we left. At 5:00 in the morning, I couldn't find it at my house, and Erin and I even stopped by my office on the way to the airport thinking it might be there. It turns out it was in the mud room off of my back porch (NO idea how it got there), so I'm having to rely on pictures from others. I am really bummed to have missed such an incredible photo opportunity...but at the same time, not having a camera in my hands all the time really allowed me to enjoy the experience fully.

A few pictures are included below, and perhaps I can post a few more when/if I get them...

Friday, December 08, 2006

on the road again

It is currently 4:30 in the morning.

By mid-afternoon, I will be here:

Half Moon Resort. Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Pictures, stories, and the long-overdue catch-up after I get back on Monday...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

a little square of heaven

Nancy made brownies for me, Erin, and Colin on Tuesday night. Arguably one of the best things that's happened all week. Not only did she go out and buy all the ingredients, she did all the work making them. And these are no ordinary brownies: they have cut up Reese's cups on top of them. This is excellent for two reasons:

1. The salt of the peanut butter contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the chocolate, making an already-fantastic brownie even more delicious.

2. Since Colin doesn't like peanut butter...more for the rest of us.

The only downside is that I keep cutting little pieces and grazing all day long...especially since today was my day off. Someone please come over here and eat some of these before I finish them off myself.

Thanks Nancy - you can bake at our place anytime!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

whatever you do, don't lend it to me

I've come to the terrible conclusion that I have evolved into something that I never wanted to be: a bad borrower. Too often of late I've found myself making the mental note, "Oh yeah, I need to give _______ back to ______ . I've had it for too long." I've decided that I need to quantify this trend, to unveil the extent of my "bad borrowing" in empirical terms rather than perpetuating my denial via abstract admissions (e.g., "I have a lot of stuff that I need to return to some people").

After a brief attempt at closing my eyes and making a mental list, I began walking through the house with a pad and pencil like a health inspector in a restaurant kitchen. I became increasingly embarassed as I spotted borrowed items in almost every room.

So, as a public confession, I'm publishing a list of items that are currently on loan to me. I fear that this is by no means an exhaustive list. In fact, it really only covers books and movies at the moment and completely ignores the fact that my next door neighbor's lawn mower is still sitting in my shed. It also does not take into account the old Gibson bass guitar that I borrowed from Patrick Sweeney in 1994 or the Birmingham Baron's baseball bat that I borrowed from Mark Erdberg for our Mountain Brook High School production of "Damn Yankees" my senior year.

Anyway, you're likely to spot something of yours on here. Or maybe you're expecting to see a book you lent me two years ago and it's not on the list. If that's the case, please leave a comment or send me an email and let me know. My goal is to start returning these items in the near future (ah! another vague abstraction! I probably promised to return these "in the near future" the first time around, too, didn't I?). Here's what I've got...and yes, I remember who owns each item - I'm just not posting it:

Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life
Annie Hall
Lost, Season 1
Freaks and Geeks, The Complete Series

The Omnivore's Dilemma
The Spiral Staircase
God's Funeral
The Irrational Season
Assassination Vacation
The Partly Cloudy Patriot
Take the Cannoli
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Barrel Fever
The Shadow of the Wind
Early Christianity
Showing Mary
The Secret Life of Bees
The Solace of Leaving Early
The Known World
Clapton's Guitar: Watching Wayne Henderson Build the Perfect Instrument

(note: I did return a copy of Tom Robbins' "Skinny Legs and All" to its rightful owner a couple of weeks ago, but the return was offset by the fact that it had been almost a decade since I borrowed it.)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

i love a good soapbox as much as the next guy

I was awake this morning by 6:00 a.m. As is the case every Tuesday, I rise early to get to the church shortly after 7:00 to prepare for our weekly young men's Bible study breakfast. But today is Election Day...so the early start allowed me to stop by my polling place (I vote at the retirement home about a block away from my house) before I headed out for work. I dropped in around 6:20 a.m. Voter #36 at this particular poll.

I have to admit, this election has gotten so much press that I even dreamed about it this morning before the alarm went off. People may disagree on which policies are best for running our country. People may argue and debate and discuss and argue some more. But one thing holds true universally, cliched though it may be: it is an immense blessing that we are allowed to have a voice in our own governance - however small that voice may be individually - and we should not take it for granted. I would rather have someone whose views are diametrically opposed to mine go out and vote than to have someone who agrees wholeheartedly with me sit at home. I feel more and more strongly about this every time I cast a ballot. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves about issues and candidates in order to facilitate an informed decision that we are allowed to voice on Election Day.

So if you've voted today, I hope you feel good about having participated in the political process, regardless of whether your candidate wins. And if you haven't voted yet, I hope you will before the day is out.

Monday, November 06, 2006

a day of sloth

It seems as if my day-to-day pace has been in high gear for months now. Even the summer didn't feel terribly slow, and it certainly wasn't any sort of "break." Both weekdays and weekends have been packed full since early September when the program year started at the church. Upon realizing last week that Saturday, Nov. 4, was a day with nothing on the calendar, Erin and I decided to plan a "day of sloth": a sabbath (little "s") day of utterly useless, unproductive lounging around and eating. Kind of like Jabba the Hut.

The day's activities - and I use that word in its laziest, least "active" sense - included reading, movie watching, napping, cooking, and putting a fire in the fireplace. The big one, though, was cooking. We messed up and cleaned up the kitchen at least three times. It went down something like this:

Breakfast - homemade buttermilk pancakes

Post-breakfast cooking - (1) Erin made a chocolate cake (more like a torte - really thick) for after dinner, and (2) I made a Thai curry paste to be used with dinner

Lunch - I picked the remainder of the tomatoes from my garden before the Friday night freeze, so we sliced them to make fried green tomatoes. Actually, we made fried green tomato sandwiches on ciabatta rolls with homemade pesto mayonnaise that was made from the basil in my garden. Delicious - probably my favorite meal all day. See picture above.

Dinner - Thai Vegetable Curry over brown Basmati rice, a recipe from one of the Moosewood cookbooks. Aforementioned chocolate cake for dessert.

And I wonder why I never get in any better shape...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

remembering the saints

Today is All Saints Day. It's the day we remember all of those who came before us, those people whose lives have provided the generational foundations which undergird our own. It's not just about the saint saints, those untouchable "superstars" who have been officially canonized by the church - it's about the people who struggle daily to live good lives by sharing their spirit of love with us. Parents. Grandparents. Siblings and friends.

Last year, we ("we" meaning "the St. James's staff") decided to set up a microphone on the front steps of the church and read the full names and ages of all the U.S. soldiers who had been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since the inception of the war. There were about 2,200 names, and it took us about two and a half hours. This year, we felt it would only be right to do the same for those killed since All Saints Day last year. Sadly, we still had a list of more than 900 names to read. The median age in this list of departed was around 21.

From the portico of the church, those attending the noon Eucharist service took turns reading names from a multi-page printout. I read a series of fifty names somewhere in the mid-400s. By odd coincidence, two of the first three names were Christophers. Another couple of Christophers showed up later in my list. Almost every name I read was younger than I by several years.

This service is a powerful experience, but not always in the way you might expect. Yes, it is shocking when the first few names are followed by numbers like "20" or "22" - even some that end in "-teen". Yes, it is awe-inspiring and awful that a list of young dead takes an hour to read aloud. But the thing I was most mortified about was how un-personal the whole experience became somewhere in the middle. After a certain number of names and ages, the wave of sound became blurry and abstract. I couldn't imagine faces with names anymore. It felt fuzzy and run-together. It's the same mechanism that allows someone to fall asleep in the midst of loud music: as long as the sound is constant, it can be tuned out, ignored. White noise. I realized this as I stood listening and trying to make each name personal to me, to attach meanings to them. Instead, it was like a photo negative of what I should have felt. Blankness where there should have been...something. And I think it's mostly due to the sheer number: too many to keep up with.

Nowadays, when someone questions what we're doing in Iraq in the first place, many people respond with, "Well, we shouldn't worry about why we're there now - we need to worry about how to fix it and get out." We do need to figure out how to fix things and get out. But that first question, the one about why we're there in the first place? I can think of over 900 really good reasons that question deserves an answer.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

cranking up the banjo, liturgical style

This morning at the 9:00 service, we played Sufjan Stevens' "All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands" for the anthem at Communion. I'd been looking forward to playing this piece for months - the opportunity to play a song in church that I enjoy listening to anyway (ie, quality singer/songwriter stuff, no cheesy Christian pop) is an event worth noting. I was given the task of writing the Music Notes about the piece for the Sunday bulletin. I know this is two postings in a row in which I've put up something I've written that has to do with church...but please indulge me one more time, as I really feel strongly about this song as a quality piece of writing that achieves in structure what it intends to convey in lyrical theme.

This morning’s anthem at Communion is “All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands” by Episcopalian singer/songwriter Sufjan (pronounced SOOF-yan) Stevens from his album Seven Swans. The title of the song is taken from Isaiah 55:12. More “indie singer/songwriter” than “contemporary Christian pop,” Stevens scrutinizes his own faith in lush soundscapes of unconventional instrumentation and introspective, less-than-overt lyrics that hint at a myriad of emotional responses: doubt, hope, self-consciousness, joy, awe.

“All the Trees…” begins with a simple banjo line that repeats like a meditative mantra beneath the opening question, “If I am alive this time next year / will I have arrived in time to share?” This kind of lyrical tension exists throughout the piece as Stevens alternately notes the joy of God’s kingdom (“I heard from the hills a band was made”) and wonders at his own place within it (“Will I be invited to the sound?”). As the song progresses, musical layers are added in sequence to the banjo foundation. Each part is uncomplicated, but completely different from the others: a piano line, a second banjo, a chorus of women. A declaration of intent comes into focus as Stevens, over the sum of these musical parts, states with purpose, “I am joining all my thoughts to you / and I’m preparing every part for you.” Indeed, the structure of the music itself mirrors the devoted intention of the singer as these seemingly disparate pieces are “joined” and “prepared” in a unified offering of praise to God.

If you aren't familiar with Sufjan Stevens, I highly recommend listening to Seven Swans in its entirety. Even if you're not into music with religious themes, the instrumentation alone warrants a second listen. It is a challenging record that drifts beyond quirky into downright weird at times...but on the whole, I think it's absolutely mesmerizing.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

saving the world...one pumpkin at a time

The pumpkin-picking at Ashland Berry Farm last week turned out even better than I expected. It was one of those moments that reminds me why I like my job so much and why I think the kids I work with are so great. The following is an account of the afternoon (with a few visual aids thrown in) that I wrote for St. James's monthly newsletter:

Counting Our Blessings in Pumpkins

St. James’s high school youth group is all about fellowship. Every Sunday evening, we meet to eat dinner together and participate in a fun activity, and we always end up having a good time. But as a part of the parish at large, our youth group is also a means for us to serve, to give thanks for our many blessings by sharing what we have with others.

Emily Steele is a St. James’s parishioner and former youth group volunteer leader of four years. As principal of Fair Oaks Elementary School in Henrico County’s Varina district, Emily needed 30 pumpkins for her school’s third annual Community Day on October 21. As Emily put it, Community Day “celebrates the connection between home and school” with a fun afternoon that includes “an inflatable obstacle course, games, pizza, hay rides and more.” The school needed pumpkins for a pumpkin-painting station, so our youth group offered to take a trip to Ashland Berry Farm to pick pumpkins and donate them to the cause.

Ashland Berry Farm is bustling with people in mid-October, due in large part to the deal they give on pumpkins: all the pumpkins you can carry (and take three steps) for $20. We sat in a line of traffic for 15 minutes just to get into the parking lot and stood in line for another half an hour to hop on the hayride out to the pumpkin patch. Despite the hoops we had to jump through, we found lots of ideal pumpkins once we were out in the field. Our pile grew bigger and bigger until we were uncertain we could carry all that we had amassed.

But there were lots of side comments as we counted and stacked pumpkins. “I picked this one – I’m taking it home.” “This is my favorite, I’m keeping it for myself.” “This one is perfect. It’s mine – I call it.” So we stopped for a moment. We talked about why were taking on this project. We talked about a spirit of giving, about sharing all that we have and not keeping the best for ourselves, about providing for others and trusting God to provide for us. It was quiet for a minute, and then everyone let go – literally and figuratively – of their pumpkins.

That turn of spirit marked an infectious change in the whole dynamic of the afternoon. The tractor driver of the hayride offered the front shovel of his tractor to carry our pumpkins safely back to the farm. “I’m gonna drive real slow – I don’t want to spill any of these charitable pumpkins,” he said, raising the shovel up as if the pumpkins were a sacred offering. The woman collecting money helped us get all of the pumpkins into four armloads (we had tested it out in five), and then only charged us for three. “It’s for a good cause!” she said.

In all, we gathered almost 50 pumpkins for Fair Oaks’ Community Day and loaded them in the back of Emily’s truck. Emily writes, “Thank you so much to St. James’s and their amazing youth group who have touched lives and provided smiles for an entire community!” The whole experience was a timely reminder for me – and, I hope, for our youth – that we are blessed with much, and sharing those blessings with others is really what it’s all about.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

a birthday of sorts

Today is October 15...which means this blog is officially a year old today. Not a terribly strong frequency of postings to show for it of late, but worth noting nonetheless. As was the case this weekend last year, the youth group is off to Ashland Berry Farm shortly to pick pumpkins that will be donated to a local elementary school for their Community Day. And it's the perfect day for it - mid-60s, clear and sunny.

Will try to follow up with photos and a recap of the last couple of weeks in the near future...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

where's george?

As if I don't have enough slightly nerdy hobbies and interests already (remind me to tell you about letterboxing sometime if I haven't yet), a new favorite appeared out of nowhere last week after I taught my usual Wednesday mandolin lesson. The $5 bill that was included as part of my payment bore a message stamped in red: "Track this bill @ www.wheresgeorge.com." Curious as to what this meant - and not being one to say "no" when money talks - I logged on.

It turns out that the website wheresgeorge.com allows you to enter the serial number of any U.S. currency and track its progress as it is spent across the country. Theoretically, anyway - tracking depends on those same bills being entered when others come into possession of them. Hence the stamp on the bill - I guess it worked since it caught my attention.

So I entered my $5 bill to see where it had come from. Most bills that receive "hits" do so within a couple of months, on average. My bill had only been entered into the system only once, almost two years ago, by some guy in Tennessee. Since last week, I've been entering lots of bills - especially $1's. Since I don't have a stamp, I've actually been writing the message "track this bill - www.wheresgeorge.com" in red ink on each (yes, THIS is the point where the whole thing becomes exceptionally dorky). No hits yet, but maybe something will turn up.

I'm fascinated by the idea that we, as inhabitants of our community, the country, and the world - or really just by the sheer fact of our human-ness - are all joined together. I love being given little reminders of this interconnectedness: all of us, whether we're rich, poor, black, white, straight, gay, Republican, Democrat, genius, or idiot...we all use common pieces of paper - currency - as a crucial means of interaction. It can be virtually anonymous: you probably won't know the gas station attendant to whom you hand over five bucks to buy a Coke and a bag of chips on your next road trip. Or, it can be incredibly intimate: you give your best friend $100 that she desperately needs without any expectation that she pay you back.

Sometimes we're connected by common friends and acquaintances, sometimes by the work that we do or the activities we enjoy. But in a divisive world in which it has become increasingly difficult to find common ground, peaceful ground, with other segments of society, it's nice to know that we ARE connected to the guy in Tennessee or the banker in New York or the garbage man in Baltimore or the farmer in Idaho...even if the connecting thread is something as small and simple as the fact that each of us has held, for a short time, the same dollar bill.

Friday, September 22, 2006

the gig, part deux

Really, I couldn't have asked for last night to go any better. Though things got started a little later than planned (after 10:30 by the time I took the stage), I thought the show flowed smoothly without any major train wrecks. OK, one flubbed chord in "Apres Moi"...but other than that, I was very happy with the way things turned out. I especially appreciated the enthusiastic and rowdy support of all the friends who showed up - you know who you are!

There were three real highlights for me:

1. Using one of those old-school (or old-school-looking) microphones...especially starting the set with the Jeff Buckley version of "Be Your Husband." The mic was almost identical to the one Buckley is holding on the cover of Grace.

2. Playing a new original - "Camouflaged Again" - for the first time in public, as well as the new revised (and hopefully final?) version of "Eyes on Fire".

3. Having Tully and his drummer sit in on "Rider" to finish out the set.

Fun night - makes me miss the days of doing this full-time. Here's the complete set list if anyone is interested.

Set List - 9.21.06
Be Your Husband
Naked As We Came
Winding Wheel
Camouflaged Again
Eyes On Fire
Apres Moi

P.S. - I decided it was time for a new look for the blog. Any thoughts??

Thursday, September 21, 2006

no freebird...and that's a promise

Tonight I'm playing a solo acoustic set at a club in Richmond for the first time in over a year. Tully's band from Virginia Beach (called The Influence) is headlining at Cary Street Cafe this evening, and they were kind enough to offer me the opening slot. I have to admit, I was flattered that Tully asked, but I was seized immediately by a vague sense of discomfort that swelled nearer to panic as I realized...I have no idea what to play. Most of the solo shows I've played recently have been private parties where people want to hear lots of covers. By contrast, I tend to think of club shows as opportunities to showcase original music - it almost seems expected, as if one would only resort to playing covers if he can't hack it with enough originals. It's a setting where someone might actually be listening to you rather than just allowing you to invade their subconscious from somewhere in the background as they pour another beer and tear into more burgers and ribs. As tonight's set is only 45 minutes, I think I can pull of 5 originals and about 5 tasteful covers. No cheesy stuff. No "fillers." Keep your fingers crossed and hold up your lighters (or cell phones) for the encore...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

ready, set...

Tomorrow is Opening Sunday, the first day of the 2006-2007 program year at the church. That means I will undoubtedly sleep badly tonight and have a long day tomorrow...but it will be fun. A service with West Gallery Choir in the morning, a ropes course teambuilding event with the 6th-9th graders during the day, and the parish picnic in the afternoon (where Oak Lane, our bluegrass band, will be playing). A 12 hour day, but it marks definitively the start of my autumn.

And tomorrow also marks 6 months exactly until my 30th birthday...

Monday, September 04, 2006

where to start?

Nancy was just over hanging out at the house chiding me (rightly so) for not having written anything despite the fact that I've been back in the country for over a week. So. Do I start with yet another apology for not having posted in two weeks? Or do I jump straight to pictures? Maybe accounts of the madness and mayhem (not really) that were Alaska and England? Or is it just far too late for a synopsis of any kind at this point?

I'll shoot for the brief overview - with a picture or two for good measure - in the hopes that I can get relatively caught up to the present.

With the help of Erin and Randy (my boss), I ventured into the middle of Alaska with 12 kids during the last week in July. Our goal was to help the Diocese of Alaska continue building a retreat and conference center in Manley Hot Springs, about 150 miles from Fairbanks. In short, it was the best of the youth mission trips that I've been a part of since I started working at St. James's. It was a fantastic group. The kids didn't work terribly hard...but they got along so well as a group that it didn't really matter. My article for St. James's September newsletter (on page 11) has a few more details about the sequence of events.

The next adventure of the summer was the choir trip to England. St. James's Parish Choir was in residence at Canterbury Cathedral for a week singing evensong services each evening. The previous weekend, we sang the Saturday and Sunday services at Westminster Abbey in London. These are arguably the two most well-known churches in Anglican Christendom: Canterbury is considered the heart of the Anglican Communion because it is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Westminster Abbey has been the site of the coronations of English monarchs for seven or eight centuries. Several of us attended the Friday evensong service at Westminster Abbey the day that we arrived in London in order to mentally prepare ourselves for our own singing experience the following afternoon. Walking past Big Ben and the houses of parliament to face the Abbey was a little daunting. In our nerdy, choirboy hearts, there was a sense that this was it. This was "the big time" as far as Anglican church gigs go. Remember that scene in Hoosiers where the team makes it to the state championships and, when they walk awestruck into the arena, Gene Hackman's character has them measure the height of the basket and the length of the foul line just to reassure them? It was kind of like that.

More specifics about the trips will surface as autumn progresses and the level of daily excitement in my life slows to a trickle due to work demands. In the meantime, two other pieces of not-so-uplifting news:

1. Nickel Creek is apparently planning to end their run as a band in order to pursue separate paths. I look forward to seeing what comes of this new arrangement musically, but I can't help feeling as if good friends of mine are breaking off a long relationship. It will be sad to see them go.

2. In even sadder news, it's hard to believe that Steve Irwin (aka, The Crocodile Hunter) has met his untimely demise. The guy wrestled enormous gators and crocs for years. He picked up deadly snakes like they were walking sticks. He swam (albeit often by accident) in piranha-infested waters. And he did it all with the energy and excitement of a ten-year-old. That he died in a chance encounter with a buried stingray while doing a shoot for a children's show instead of filming "The Ocean's Deadliest" is a crushing irony. I probably haven't watched his show in five years, but I miss him already.

Friday, August 18, 2006

from alaska to england

OK, I've never been this bad about posting before, so apologies to those who might actually be keeping up. A brief catch-up, for now: Alaska was amazing, I was home for a couple of weeks, and I'm currently in London with the choir from St. James's to sing weekend services at Westminster Abbey and a week-long choral residency at Canterbury Cathedral next week. We just arrived this morning. I've only slept about 40 minutes in the last 30 hours, but it's been a great trip so far. I suppose I'll need to post lots of pictures - both of Alaska and England - when I return. Probably won't get another chance to post until I get back on the 26th, but will put in a short update along the way if possible. Cheers...

Monday, July 24, 2006

into the interior

Quick post, as I'm leaving for Alaska momentarily. Randy, Erin and I are taking 12 kids to Manley Hot Springs again this summer for the youth mission trip. We meet at the airport in an hour. I hope to have good pictures and good stories when we get back on Aug. 2nd!

Until then...

P.S. - I was thinking about Alaska being called "Seward's Folly" and feeling a little disconcerted that you can rearrange the letters (and add one "d") make it "Edwards's Folly." Yikes.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

an inconvenient truth

Erin and I went to go see "An Inconvenient Truth" on Tuesday night. For the uninitiated, this is Al Gore's documentary about global warming and the effects on the planet. It stems from a Power Point presentation that Gore has been giving for years in hundreds of cities around the world.

Yes, it's a movie about a Power Point presentation. Starring Al Gore.

Let me state right off the bat that I'm no huge Al Gore fan. And might this film have a little too much Al Gore talking about Al Gore? Absolutely. Political grandstanding? Yeah, probably. BUT...

This is also the most compelling movie I've seen all year. Maybe in the last couple of years.

This movie includes real - and I would say indisputable - scientific data to back up the claims of global warming. Forget those magazine columnists and political pundits and newspaper folks who write about the problem abstractly...like the ones who say, "Well, it's all just part of a several-thousand-year cycle." No more vague claims: this movies shows empirical data - measurements - that left me speechless. As one conservative remarked in this week's Newsweek article The New Greening of America, "Al Gore can't convince me, but his data can convince me."

In short: GO SEE THIS FILM. Ignore Gore talking about Gore if you want, but GO SEE THIS FILM. Seriously, I don't make recommendations that often. If you and I are friends, do me this favor and go see it. I really do feel that it is our duty as human beings to take an honest - and scientifically sound - look at this problem.

Monday, July 10, 2006

going out with a (head) bang

My 12th grade AP English teacher was arguably the most lenient, least effective, and least favorite of my high school English teachers. However, she did leave us with a little pearl of wisdom on the next-to-last day of high school that has stuck with me for years: "It's never too late to ruin a good reputation."

Watching the final match of the World Cup yesterday, I couldn't help being reminded of this admonition. I love soccer for its grace and perpetual motion, for its requisite athleticism and (more often than not) its sportsmanship. Though Italy had been stalwart throughout the tournament with a defense that did not allow an offensive goal (there was one own-goal scored in the game against the U.S.), I was pulling for France primarily because this was Zinedine Zidane's last run before retiring. He's a fun player to watch, one of the greatest of the age, and his skill in controlling the ball commands immense respect. Frankly, I wanted to see him end his 18-year career with a World Cup win.

So when Zidane was ejected after earning himself a red card for head-butting Materazzi in the chest with ten minutes to go in overtime, all I could think was, "Ten more minutes. Couldn't you have made it ten more minutes?" France had outplayed Italy the whole game, and Zidane would have been France's best chance for a goal in the final minutes (not to mention the penalty kick shootout). I'm sure Materazzi said something that very well may have warranted an ass-kicking, but maybe at another time and place, and in a different manner.

I can only imagine working the same job for almost two decades...and then, at 4:50 p.m. on the last day, walking up to an unsavory coworker and knocking the crap out of them.

This incident doesn't change years of amazing accomplishments throughout Zidane's career. But it does cast them in a different light. They are overshadowed by this final, failing move. People will see him differently because of it. I know I do.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

big news

My sister Leslie: I've known her for 25 years. I still picture her as a chubby five-year-old standing on the beach wearing a pink and white striped dress with hair white like cornsilk. But she's certainly no kid anymore. She sharp, funny, beautiful, and self-assured - and now my "little" (6'0") sister is GETTING MARRIED!!

Congrats to you and Jorge, kiddo - I love you!

Friday, June 16, 2006

here, there, and everywhere

I feel kind of scattered this morning, like my mind is on 100 different things in rotation. Consequently, I feel incapable of writing a single-subject post that is focused and taut...so maybe if a toss out a few of these random nuggets in writing, I can get a little clearer. So, how about list form?

1. Yesterday was my friend Josh's 28th birthday. He is currently in Haiti for a month working for the Catholic church, doing good work and having even better philosophical thoughts (he's even more "in his head" than I am in mine). I do recommend Josh's Haiti blog, though perhaps not all at once - there's some heavy thinking going on in there. Happy birthday, my friend.

2. Today is "Bloomsday." James Joyce's novel Ulysses takes place over the course of one day - June 16 - following the hour-by-hour course of a Dubliner named Leopold Bloom as he moves throughout the city. Have a pint of stout today and celebrate the Irish.

3. My friends Nate and Alyssa are getting married this weekend - Erin and I (along with Colin and Alexis) are heading down to Durham later this morning for the weekend celebration. It promises to be a ridiculously good time.

4. Next weekend is the church's annual Beach Retreat at Emerald Isle, NC. The theme this year has to do with creation - stories, sounds, and patterns in nature. I'm in charge of half the program. I'm thinking about doing a piece on fractals, and a piece on harmonic singing. Any other ideas?? Because I'm pretty sure I'm screwed.

5. Erin only lives a mile from my house. Lately, instead of driving back and forth, I've taken to riding my bike through the neighborhood. I admit, I do feel a little bit like a 9-year-old as I pull into the backyard and heave my bike onto the deck, but it's been good exercise and it's such a pretty ride. Quiet, no radio...and slow enough to take in the scenery. It feels very European (and I'm obviously feeling very pretentious).

6. I've gotten to see some great music in the past week. Nickel Creek last Friday, the Avett Brothers and the Hackensaw Boys last night. Fantastic shows. (Side note: at a concert where you can see the stage AND there is a big screen broadcasting the show, why is it that many eyes are drawn to the screen rather than to the stage? the facade of the show rather than the show itself??)

That's about all I can handle at the moment, as it is time to finish packing for this wedding trip. Hopefully there will be stories and pictures worth publishing after the weekend.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

and for our next trick

I realize it's been a couple of weeks. I've had this one post in mind that I've been meaning to write for about 12 days now (though this is NOT said post), but one thing or another has gotten in the way.

Perhaps I'll get to that other lengthy post later in the day, but I think I'm going to have to build up to it. Erin and I had dinner with our friends Antonia and Jonathan last night, which is always such a fantastic time. We DID, however, learn a valuable lesson this time around involving the reserve supply of wine and our own self control. Namely, that the intuitive sense one gets after the first two or three bottles - the feeling that all of the remaining wine in the house is bound to go bad before sunrise - is, in fact, incorrect. Wow.

I realize this post sounds a little ridiculous on the heels of the last post. A bit of a regression, perhaps? Maybe. But it was fun, regardless.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

be still

Our whole staff from St. James's spent Monday and Tuesday on retreat at the Cathedral College of Preachers, an ecclesiastical continuing education center attached to the National Cathedral in D.C. The sole purpose of this retreat was to force the thirteen of us into a place where we could not work or do anything other than relax and participate in some guided meditations and contemplative prayer. We were led by Tilden Edwards, the founder and 27-year director of the Shalem Institute dedicated to the support of contemplative living. The guy is pretty amazing - his guided meditations were so effective, and following one of them after lunch, we were asked to move about the grounds of the cathedral (or sit still) on our own and just "be" in silence for an hour and a half. I realize it may sound a little cheesy or New Agey or something. But imagine if you could take your brain out of your head and scrub it clean of residue and clutter before putting it back in your skull. The whole experience felt kind of like that. Clarity. A clean slate. An ease of being. An openness to things just as they are without trying to make them into something else. A reliance on intuition and experience rather than analytical naming. (I sound like a total hippie.)

It was a renewing, centering experience. And yes, there was more to the retreat than the meditations. There was lots of food. And some wine. And more than a little bourbon and cigar smoking. Mostly it was an enjoyable two days with a group of people I consider to be my good friends. Having now returned to "real life," I only hope that I can hang on to the sense of balance and openness that I managed to find - or that found me - once I was unplugged for a while.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

worth 1,000 words? maybe a dozen or so, anyway...

Finally, some pictures from our grand beach vacation...

The Fam:

Erin on the porch:

Les and Jorge:

Is Leslie actually pointing at my mother rather mockingly?? Or just being generally retarded? And why does mom look a little confused?

Mom bought "Crocs" for all of us - about as perfect as a beach shoe gets. Thanks Mom!

I shaved the beard over vacation and for just a brief, shining moment, I had a moustache that would have been the envy of porn stars and rednecks everywhere:

Dad getting ready to take us out in the boat:

Exploring Little St. George Island:

Mom at the porch door:

Doing what we do best - eating and drinking!

A view of the sunset from the house:

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

all good things must end

A brief recap of the vacation week:

Things got off to a bit of a rough start when our plane was more than three hours late leaving Richmond. After another delay in Atlanta, we got to Panama City about midnight and walked in the door at the beach house at quarter to 2:00 in the morning. If it weren't for Erin's patience and unflappable good nature, I probably would have thrown at least one tantrum at some point in the travel process. As it was, though, we enjoyed getting some time to sit and relax and revel in the fact that we did not have to be anywhere (not that there was anywhere to go in the airport). So the night ended late, to be sure...but not late enough to forego a big plate of veggie lasagna that our parents' friend Ronnie had made for us.

Despite the delayed beginning, the rest of the week was indescribably great - got to see Mom, Dad, Les, Jorge, my Aunt Anne and Uncle Joe, various friends, etc. Read a lot. Slept a lot. Drank my fair share (and then some). Poor Erin was subjected to a tidal wave of semi-drunk relatives and satellite "family" who descended en masse upon Monday night dinner. Thankfully, she not only tolerated this spectacle...she actually enjoyed it. (Hallelujah!)

Pictures of the week will follow soon. Meanwhile, I'll just be sitting inside working, watching my tan fade as I wallow in post-vacation self-pity.

In other breaking news: David Blaine is a moron. Seriously.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

sun and sand!

I'm headed out the door - FINALLY - for a week on the beach in Florida! I've been looking forward to this day for weeks. I intend to try to forget all about work and day-to-dayness until Friday.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

lucky numbers

My new addiction is the Virginia Lottery. Not long ago, my mom started getting a couple of tickets each week for the Florida Lottery because the jackpot was up to $82 million ...at least until last night, when two people matched all six numbers and crushed the jackpot back down to $3 million. It's only $1 a ticket to play in both Florida and Virginia...so why not get two or three tickets?

"Consider it entertainment that might reap big rewards," Mom says. She's right, I suppose: after all, the Mega Millions lottery in Virginia was up to $265 million on Tuesday before one person hit the jackpot in Ohio. Now it's a paltry $20 million or so. Pocket change by comparison. I bought three tickets on Tuesday and I did get the Mega Ball number correct on the first one. That won me a whopping $2. Not a big winner, but still - I was excited about the drawing all afternoon. And I made back two of the three dollars I spent. True, I didn't win a damn thing on the one ticket I bought last night for the Win for Life drawing, but who cares? There's another Mega Millions drawing on Friday night.

Who knew $1 could buy so much excitement?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

holy itunes?

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday, the end of Holy Week. For those of us who work in the church, this is the most important (and often busiest) week of the liturgical year. It is a time when - hopefully - our hearts and minds are open to holy and the divine.

Now, with that in mind...the following statement may sound a little strange: I'd like to share with you three coincidences involving Holy Week and my iTunes. Seriously. I make no claim as to the meaning of these incidents - I know only that they happened and that the odds of all three happening are slim, to say the very least.

Incident #1: Good Friday, 2005 (last year)
Having finished singing the noon Good Friday service, I went into my office to get some work done before heading out for the afternoon. I opened iTunes on my computer and put it on shuffle. (I should note that I have over 3,400 songs in my iTunes - that's over 10 days of continuous play. I have almost my entire music collection on there.) The second or third song of the shuffle was a track from "Jesus Christ Superstar" - specifically, it was the track entitled "Trial Before Pilate (Including the 39 Lashes)." The timing was significant enough to me that I mentioned it to a couple of people in the office.

Incident #2: Palm Sunday, 2006 (last Sunday)
Each year on Palm Sunday, we end the service with a very moving rendition of the hymn "O Sacred Head Sore Wounded." It begins with a boy soprano singing the first verse solo, followed by the choir singing verse two a capella in four parts. For those not familiar with the hymn, the melody is from Bach's "Passion Chorale" - it is a traditional Holy Week hymn. Following the service, I went home to make lunch, still humming the song. As I sat down to eat, I put my iTunes on shuffle. The second track that played was Paul Simon's "American Tune." For those that don't know the song, the the melody is also from Bach's "Passion Chorale." It is the same melody as "O Sacred Head Sore Wounded." (Side note: We actually sang these two pieces - "O Sacred Head" and "American Tune" - together in alternating verses at a Maundy Thursday service two years ago.)

Incident #3: Holy Saturday, 2006 (today)
Having been busy for most of the week and finally having a day of relative rest, I decided to clean out my closet this afternoon. As I began to work, I put my iTunes on shuffle. On this day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the second song that played was from "Jesus Christ Superstar." The specific track? "Trial Before Pilate (Including the 39 Lashes)."

Happy Easter, all...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

minutia of a thursday afternoon

I really need to get a new look for this blog.

My friend Austin just made herself a rockin' new design and layout for her blog. Check it out: it looks pretty great, right? I think it's the second redesign in the last three months, each one better than the previous one. And all of this in spite of the fact that she promised me back in October that she would drag me out of my dorkdom by putting her creativity to use and providing some hot new design idea for my blog. You might have noticed that that hasn't actually happened yet. (Yes, I'm calling her out, just a little bit - but only because her site looks so freakin' sharp!)

Meanwhile, I have to share the best link I've received via email all week (maybe all year). Erin gets the credit for finding this little nugget - it's the Falling Bush screensaver: http://www.planetdan.net/pics/misc/georgie.htm. Republicans, beware - you won't like this. The rest of you (I think perhaps ALL of you reading this?) enjoy! And take note: when he gets stuck, you can drag him around with your mouse, even squeeze him through seemingly too-tight spaces. Endless hours of entertainment!

Speaking of entertaining, my favorite - albeit not terribly PC - quip today comes from my sister, Leslie: "There's nothing like an overweight Hasidic Jew riding on the back of a Vespa to make your day. I love Miami."

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

inside the ipod

I can't pinpoint the date, but somewhere along the line I became a bit of a tech nerd. This morning, I got to scrub in on an iPod "surgery": Randy and I took his third generation iPod apart to replace a battery that wouldn't hold a charge anymore. This was appealing to me on three levels:

(1) I'd never seen the inside of an iPod before, and I had no clue how to open it since it seems so beautifully seamless. Fun challenge.
(2) Taking your iPod to the store to get the battery replaced costs $75. However, if you can figure out how to replace it yourself, the battery alone is only $25. I'm kind of cheap, so I love the "do-it-yourself" quality at work here.
(3) Most embarassingly, I know that this is the closest I'll ever get to participating in some cool, rare, Grey's Anatomy-style surgery (apparently I'm a TV nerd, too).

In truth, it's amazing how simple the iPod looks inside...and equally amazing how small the hard drive is that holds 20 gigs worth of digital information. We were able to swap out the battery pretty easily, and it seems to be working fine so far.

So I may not be ready for open heart surgery or brain tumor removal yet...but I bet I can program your DVD/VCR combo.

Friday, March 31, 2006

what i will NOT be doing on sunday evening

Did anyone happen to catch the following CNN article today?

Holy Poor Sportsmanship! Youth Minister Charged After 'Dodgeball Rage' Incident

I have to admit, I laughed out loud in spite of myself. It sounds like it should be a headline from The Onion. I can picture this poor guy thinking "What's wrong with a harmless game of dodgeball?" just before getting beaned in the head by a 16-year-old with a strong arm and accurate aim. I mean, come on: who really thinks it's a good idea to gather a bunch of teenagers together for the sole purpose of pegging each other with a rubber ball? Who thinks it's an even better idea to jump into the middle of the fray? Recipe for disaster.

I can't decide what's worse: that this happened at all, or that it's front page news on CNN.com. Either way, I'm pretty sure we will not be playing dodgeball at youth group this Sunday...at least, not anymore.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

the anti-rip-off

I'm in the process of trying to get my jetted tub fixed. For the past year, turning on the jets in the tub has caused water to gush through the light fixtures in the kitchen ceiling. Probably a bad sign, no? Every time I use the tub, it is decidedly unfulfilling because I can't turn the jets on for fear of electricution and flooding. I haven't had it fixed sooner because there are no access doors to the pump and pipes; consequently, I had to have the siding ripped off around the tub just to get to the leak.

I talked to this handyman last week about coming by to fix it - he came highly recommended by a couple of people at work. Relatively young guy, probably about my age or a little younger. He dropped by this afternoon to take a look. He showed me where the sealant had come loose between the pipe and the pump. He said it was a pretty easy fix that I could do myself and told me exactly what I needed to get at the hardware store for the repair. I thanked him and asked him how much I owed him for the consult. He said, "Oh, don't worry about - you don't owe me anything. I just do repair work after my day job to make a little extra money and help people out who need it."

It seemed to be such a change from the often-expensive fee that plumbers and electricians usually charge just for showing up. It's unnecessarily kind acts like this one that restore my faith in the goodness of humanity...or at least help me get my hot tub fixed for cheap.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

how the mighty have fallen

It's 10:00 PM. I'm sitting in my office having just finished choir rehearsal. I checked the basketball scores on espn.com to see what I missed...and now I'm afraid to go home because DUKE just LOST. I've never seen Colin get super-pissed, but I imagine that if ever there were a time when he might be throwing things and screaming at the top of his lungs, it might be now. Yikes.

So much for my brackets.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

just what i needed

Salvation comes when you least expect it...and from unlikely places. I've been feeling more than a little overextended the past six weeks - as evidenced by my lack of postings on this blog - and I've been approaching a point where I need to slow down and take a break or risk total exhaustion and burn-out.

So, I was completely caught off guard when Virginia, the organist and director of the choir for the 9:00 AM Sunday service, walked into my office on Monday, told me I had been looking overly tired at rehearsals on Wednesday and Thursday nights, and asked if I wanted to take off from Wednesday night rehearsals until after Easter. For those of you that know how constant, demanding, and consuming the choirs are for me, you realize what a coup this is and how grateful I was (and still am) for the surprise suggestion. I feel blessed to have been given this little reprieve when I expected it least and needed it most.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

o me of little faith

It's been a beatiful few days, warm and spring-like for the most part. The kind of weather that allows me to thrive. Over the weekend, I began building vegetable garden beds in my backyard. I've never had a vegetable garden in my adult life, and I only vaguely remember helping my parents with the one we had when I was about five.

This vegetable planting has resulted from the confluence of several items. While the idea of a vegetable garden has always appealed to me, I've never had anyone who could instruct me as to what to do. (Given my natural knack for killing plants - ten, yes, TEN azalea bushes - this is an absolute necessity.) Nor have I had anyone willing to help with the manual labor of gardening on a regular basis. Thankfully, mercifully, Erin has taken on both of these roles. Brave girl. Couple this with my new-found focus on vegetables as a consequence of giving up meat for Lent, and suddenly a vegetable garden seems like an absolute necessity!

But here's the thing: seeds are small. REALLY small. Tiny. But plants...plants are big. Plants are hearty, leafy, fruitful. We started planting these tiny seeds in miniscule trays that barely hold an ounce of soil. We buried a single seed in each one and covered it with a few granules of wet dirt. All I could think was, "No way." Erin said, "Trust me. They'll grow." I shook my head. "No way." I mean, those things are tiny. "They'll get lost in there."

That was four days ago. This morning, there was life where there was no life before: little sprouts of green as my lettuce had begun to germinate and sprout.

Maybe I should reconsider how much faith I really have...

Friday, March 10, 2006

and one to grow on

So. Today is my birthday. Twenty-nine. Counting down the days to 30.

Strangely, I don't have that "digging my heels in" sensation that I've sometimes had on other birthdays, that knee-jerk Peter Pan "I won't grow up" feeling. I have no idea why. But it's nice. And freeing.

It doesn't hurt that today is the first day this year that has really, legitimately felt like spring. It's that first day of good warm weather that makes me want to laugh - almost maniacally - just because it's so beautiful outside. I am thankful that some cosmic coincidence has landed that day on this particular date this year.

Birthday. Day off. Incredible weather. Dinner plans with Erin later. I can't imagine that it gets much better than this.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

so, what's in the box?

Despite the fact that she is almost 90, my grandmother is still a very sharp, very "with it" woman. For the most part she acts as if she is 15 to 20 years younger. At Christmas, she always sends tasteful gifts: a stylish scarf, a pair of nice gloves, an interesting book, etc. - she is always very thoughtful. However, she seems to use my birthday as an occasion to exercise her practicality. Every year she sends me a care package for my birthday, and every year it includes items with which to stock my pantry. She either thinks that I am starving, or that I don't know how to shop for myself...or perhaps both.

The thought is endearing, but it's the curiosity of some of the items themselves that make me wonder what she was thinking. It gets weirder every year: I didn't even know some of these existed. Here is the inventory of this year's birthday box:

1 bag of homemade chocolate chip cookies
1 box of Orville Redenbacher "Mini Bags" of Smart Pop
1 package of generic caramel dipped shortbread cookies
1 box of Suddenly Salad Creamy Parmesan Pasta
1 box of Pasta Roni Chicken Quesadilla-flavored Pasta
1 package of Lipton "Asian Sides" Chicken Fried Rice
1 bag of Idahoan Butter & Herb "Just Add Water" Instant Mashed Potatoes.
1 "Lunch Bucket" pasta & chicken
1 package of yellow cornbread mix
1 package of brown gravy mix
1 cannister of French Fried Onions
1 "Lunch Bucket"-style spaghetti rings & franks
1 can Campbell's Split-Pea with Ham & Bacon soup
1 package of Chicken of the Sea shrimp

If I'm ever forced to build a bomb shelter and hide out in it for a couple of weeks, I think I'll be all set.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

in the waiting line

Having been awake far too long already today, I find myself being distracted by the most inconsequential minutia. This morning's inane burning question is this: When I use the drive-thru teller at the bank to make a deposit, it takes - on average - approximately 60 seconds from the time I put my checks in the container to the moment when the teller says, "Have a nice day." Maybe 90 seconds if I'm getting cash back. Why, then, does it often take the person in front of me upward of 6 or 7 minutes to do what they need to do? A deposit is a deposit - ceteris paribus - and shouldn't vary too much from one to another. So what are those people doing, anyway? Have they asked for cash back in nickels, dimes, and quarters? Maybe they want 50 crisp singles with no folded edges to feed the vending machines at work? Or perhaps they're submitting a loan application?

I don't know. It's a little baffling. I assume these are the same people that are able to drag the grocery checkout experience into a 15-minute ordeal, as well.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

crossing the finish line

These have been two of the busiest weeks of my existence...and finally they are coming to an end (Hallelujah!). It's as if every time I blink three days and 80% of my energy are lost. I spent 8 of 9 straight nights doing work-related things. We had our big Mardi Gras fundraiser at the church on Tuesday night, two services on Ash Wednesday, and then the grand finale of the work week on Thursday evening: the entire choir got booted from rehearsal halfway through because we were ill-prepared on a piece that should have been more up to snuff. We didn't even practice the two anthemns for Sunday. Unbelievable.

The weekend did bring some reprieve, though. I had a Friday happy hour gig with Oak Lane, the folk/bluegrass band I've been playing in. Not a bad start....but Saturday was the real redeemer of the week. After a Joe's Inn Saturday lunch that was so late it almost qualified as dinner, Erin and I went to the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, which I hadn't visited in over a year. The best part was that we saw all these exhibits I'd never experienced - or certainly had never appreciated - before. I finally learned to which time periods "Art Nouveau" and "Art Deco" refer. I even felt vague affection for a Frank Lloyd Wright chair - it's probably the only time I've ever actually looked at furniture in a museum and paid attention.

On top of everything else going on this week, today was Youth Sunday at the church. At the 9:00 service this morning, the youth ran everything in the service: they were the officiants, the preacher, the ushers, the acolytes, the readers, the musicians, etc. And all of them fulfilled their duties with much more poise than might be expected of people their age. They made me feel proud and privileged to have the job that I do.

And now, I plan to revel in the end of the week (or the beginning of a less-busy week, I guess) with a nap before Youth Group tonight.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

2, no 6, no 12 - baker's dozen

Why does February always sneak up on me as one of the busiest months of the year? It seems so odd. I realized yesterday I haven't posted in a week. Lame.

I just finished eating a single chocolate iced glazed Krispy Kreme donut, and it was the best thing that's happened to me all day. As I pulled out of the KK parking lot and drove toward home, donut in hand, I started getting nostalgic for a number of pivotal moments in my life that have revolved around donuts (I know this is weird, just stick with me for a minute). From the time I was about 3 until I was 5 or so, my dad used to take me to school on Tuesdays - his day off. Before school, we would go downtown to this bakery called Waites for breakfast, where I would have two chocolate glazed donuts and a glass of milk. The same two waitresses - Bernadette and Thadine - waited on us every week. And every week, when we would take some donuts home to my mom and my baby sister, they would put in one extra donut for free and not tell the grouchy lady at the checkout register. They even threw me a birthday party once in the back room of Waites (I think I was four) and gave me a red toy race car.

There are other moments worth remembering: one of the best little league baseball games I can remember was one Saturday morning in 2nd grade when our coach brought us glazed donuts and orange juice; my high school friends and I downed half a dozen each one night cruising around town; I went to Krispy Kreme on September 12, 2001; I kissed someone in the Krispy Kreme parking lot once; I had a donut for dinner before the Coldplay concert last fall; and today I cashed in my "free donut" valentine.


Friday, February 17, 2006

free at last, free at last

Sometime about 12 or 13 years ago, I got my braces off. It was a glorious event, marred only by the fact that they glued this thin metal wire to the back of my lower front teeth to keep them from moving. It was a permanent retainer that I was (potentially) supposed to have for my whole life.

A few days ago, my teeth rebelled and took up arms against their metal oppressor, tearing the sliver of metal away from the glue on one side. And yesterday, when I went to the dentist for him to take a look, my teeth won their freedom, completely and forever, with the removal of the great metal monster. Hallelujah! It's like getting my braces off all over again. The real estate in my mouth feels as if it's increased threefold. The speed bump on the back of my teeth gone, it now feels more like a ramp that's been greased with Crisco. The only bad thing is that, apparently, said retainer acted as a sort of "seat belt" for my tongue...and for the first two hours it was gone, I felt my tongue wanting to slip up and loll forward (and out) of my mouth like a panting dog.

Nevertheless, it is unspeakably great to be able to feel the entire surface of the back of my lower teeth again for the first time in over a decade.

Monday, February 13, 2006

a little too personal?

This is the post of personal shout-outs, because several people deserve them this week. Here we go:

- To my sister, for a number of reasons: for putting up with my ridiculousness for 25 years; for sending me several good books in the mail; for being patient when I don't mail her things in a timely fashion; for trying to teach me Spanish; for calling me while I'm on a date and chastising me (rightly) for picking up the phone.
- To Alyssa, because today is her birthday. And she just flat out rocks. And makes me laugh endlessly.
- To Josh, who also sends me good books in the mail (what is one to do with all these literary friends??). And who always has sage words of wisdom in times of need...or at least a confusing zen koan or two.
- To my favorite old woman in Miami, who's working her magic on some new guy. Keep up the good work, playa...and keep an eye out for my sister - she just moved down to Miami yesterday.
- To Nancy, who bothers to read these posts even though I see her multiple times a week. You and Colin (and Scout) make hanging around my own house a worthwhile endeavor.

OK, I think that's enough - the saccharine proportions of this post are making me throw up a little bit in the back of my mouth, so I'm going to give in to my current state of exhaustion and go to sleep.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

under the weather

I have a cold. Man, I'm pissed. I always seem to get sick one time every year, usually in February. Last year I made it all the way to May before I got a cold - I thought I was out of the woods, and BAM! This time it came upon me in a matter of hours: went to sleep last night feeling pretty good, woke up four hours later with a scratchy sore throat. What could have caused it? Could it be the erratic sleep schedule these days? Maybe the bourbon and gingers I had while watching the Duke/NC game last night? I don't know. I'm just hoping it's a short illness. Meanwhile, I can feel the NyQuil starting to kick in - I suppose that means I should go to bed before I write something exceptionally brilliant and interesting (read: stupid).

Sunday, February 05, 2006

iron and wine, and the occasional moped

I saw a moped biker gang on Friday afternoon. For real. I'm not even kidding. They drove past the outdoor patio of the bar where I was enjoying good beer, good company, and amazing February sunshine. One guy even pumped his fist in the air and gave a "Woo hoo!" in a totally tongue-in-cheek moped-riding sort of way that made everyone on the patio laugh.

But the moped gang is not what I'm intending to write about because it doesn't do much good talking about it without pictures. The effect is lost.

Instead, can we talk about the fact that I might be the last person I know to begin exploring the music of Iron and Wine? I know it's shown up in a commercial or two, and I feel like I've skated around it for a couple of years but never really listened directly. But how amazing is "Naked As We Came" (shown here with audio and video), both lyrically and musically? Or, at the very least, the two fit together like peanut butter and jelly. The lyrics are beautiful, and the music suits it in a very gentle, thoughtful sort of way:

She says "wake up, it's no use pretending"
I'll keep stealing, breathing her.
Birds are leaving over autumn's ending
One of us will die inside these arms

Eyes wide open, naked as we came
One will spread our ashes 'round the yard

She says "If I leave before you, darling
Don't you waste me in the ground"
I lay smiling like our sleeping children
One of us will die inside these arms

Eyes wide open, naked as we came
One will spread our ashes 'round the yard

It's one of those songs I wish I'd written. Even though at this point the song may be cliche to those who have heard it a million times, I've been inescapably hung up on it for a couple of days now. In fact, it's inspired me to begin compiling a list of other songs I wish I'd written...which I will put in a separate post in the near future.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

it had to happen sooner or later

To date, I have refrained from posting anything overtly spiritual in nature on this site because I think everyone (myself included) has his or her own way of figuring out and dealing with spirituality and religion...and everyone deserves the right to do so on their own terms without unwanted interference. That being said, this is my blog, these are the things I think about on a day to day basis, and they constitute a large part of who I am. So, if you feel as if you might need a little spiritual feeding today (or at least something to think about), keep reading...and if not, no worries: just sit this one out and catch the next post.

I came across an article written by The Rev. Ben Campbell about the nature of prayer that I found extraordinary. Ben runs Richmond Hill, an ecumenical retreat center in a converted convent here in Richmond's Church Hill (the old part of the city, just down the street from St. John's Episcopal Church where Patrick Henry delivered his "Give me liberty, or give me death" speech). I've met Ben a couple of times - he's incredibly involved in community outreach in Richmond, especially across racial divides. Very energetic and centered in a way that makes you feel as if you've known him for years. All in all, a brilliant guy...and it doesn't hurt that he sounds strikingly like Johnny Cash.

Anyway, the article appeared on the cover of Richmond Hill's January newsletter. This is the paragraph I find most compelling:

"There are many points at which prayer can become rote, superficial, or deflected, but this point is one of the most deceptive. When we pray for the salvation, healing, and transformation of people's lives, nations, and histories, we are not asking God to do something he does not want to do. We are rather aligning ourselves with what we already know is God's will - his love of each human being in particular and of humanity in general. We are praying with God more than we are praying to him."

The concept of intercessory prayer as "alignment" is not one I'd thought about before. It makes more sense to me than the idea of asking God for things that seem obvious and unnecessary (as if God doesn't get it and we have to ask in order to call it to his attention). There are several other interesting bits later in the article, and I definitely recommend the full text if you have the time and inclination to read it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

"the hobo's watch stopped at five o'clock..."

I've had this old Drivin' and Cryin' song stuck in my head the past couple of days. Any of you that grew up in the deep south in the early 90's may remember Drivin' and Cryin' - a straightforward folk/rock band from Atlanta most famous for it's alt country (when alt country was new) tune "Straight to Hell." Or maybe you remember that crunchy guitar riff from "Honeysuckle Blue," or the title track from the album "Fly Me Courageous." Or maybe you've never heard of them at all.

"Let's Go Dancing" has been my song du jour recently, though I can only play it in my head because I have no idea where the actual CD has run off to. I looked the album up on iTunes and was surprised to find that the album release date was January 3, 1991. That's fifteen years ago this month. I admit that I am a little disturbed by this fact. More time has passed since the release of this album than the amount of time between my birth and this album's release. So I'm riding a wave of nostalgia for Kevn Kinney's bad teeth, for Buren Fowler's (even worse) 90's rocker hair, for strumming and singing along to "Let's Go Dancing," for my childhood and for the now-diminished quality of my once-pristine hearing.

Friday, January 27, 2006


As an aside, how could I forget to mention that today is Mozart's 250th birthday??? Take a few minutes today to listen to one of the most brilliant composers of Western music. I recommend the Laudate Dominum from the Solemn Vespers...

it's all about the music...and the beer

This weekend is the Diocesan Council for the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. The Diocese of the Virginia is the largest Episcopal Diocese in the country, and basically this is a big meeting of over 800 priests and lay delegates from the diocese who get together and argue about whether they do or do not agree with the appointment of Gene Robinson (the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire) two and a half years ago. They discuss other stuff, too...but mostly people are either still pissed about the gay issue or they're not.

Anyway. St. James's choirs are singing for the Council's Eucharist service tonight, which is kind of cool - of the hundreds of churches in the diocese, we get to do the music: a half-hour prelude of bluegrass, a Youth Choir anthem for the Offertory, and anthems by the Parish Choir during communion.

So that's my church-nerd news for the weekend. I'm headed down to the Richmond Convention Center shortly to get set up. What I'm really looking forward to is the beer at Capital Ale House after the service...

Sunday, January 22, 2006

i can see clearly now

New glasses finally got here. I'm pretty happy with them. Any thoughts?

Friday, January 20, 2006

exercises in futility

It's an incredibly beautiful day in Richmond, one of those out-of-place January days where the temperature is in the mid-60s and you can sit outside without a coat. Even better, today is my day off.

The huge irony is that I'm stuck sitting on my ass at home. My new dining room table (for which I've been waiting for two weeks) was scheduled for delivery today between 11:00 and 2:00. Sure enough, the truck showed up with my table at 1:30...with absolutely NO hardware to attach the legs. The table now sitting upside down on my dining room floor while I wait for the warehouse to call me and tell me when they're going to come by later this afternoon to finish putting it together.

While I'm waiting, I thought I should use my time wisely and check to see why the new eyeglasses I ordered two weeks ago had not arrived yet, either (they're coming from a frame shop in Nashville). So I called SEE and was put on hold for a few minutes before explaining my dilemma to the girl who answered. The conversation went something like this:

CLUELESS GIRL: "SEE. Can you hold?"
ME: "Sure."

(3 minutes on hold)

CLUELESS GIRL: "How can I help you?"
ME: "Yeah, I ordered some glasses on the 5th, just wanted to check on the status of..."
ME: "Edwards."

(2 minutes on hold)

CLUELESS GIRL: "They're ready, you can come in and pick them up anytime."
ME: "Uh...I live in Richmond Virginia. They were supposed to ship them to me."

(3 minutes on hold)

CLUELESS GIRL: "Yep, you're right. They shipped on the 11th."
ME: "OK...well, today's the 20th and they're not here. I'm just trying to figure out where they are."

(5 minutes on hold)

ME: "Um, hello?"
NEW CLUELESS DUDE: "What's your first name?"
ME: "Chris."
"Hold on."

(30 seconds on hold, probably just long enough for this new guy to curse my name or laugh at my misfortune)

NEW CLUELESS DUDE: "Um...Chris. Can we call you back in a minute, Chris?"
ME: "Sure."
NEW CLUELESS DUDE: "Great. Call you right back."
ME: "Do you have my number??"
NEW CLUELESS DUDE: "Oh. Um...can you give it to us real quick?"

That was about 30 minutes ago.

A table that can't hold its legs, a pair of glasses trapped in a mail package misplaced in some Post Office, and a phone that sits quietly, patiently, waiting for someone to make it ring. But alas: the phone stays quiet, the table keeps lying there, and the clock is counting down the remaining hours (minutes!) of this beautiful sunny afternoon anomaly.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

feeling good...maybe too good?

Despite the fact that I was up at 6:00 AM again this morning, this has been a stellar day.

After a whole lot of talk and days of "gym shame" (guilt over not going), I finally made it to the Y for the first time in several weeks. OK, months. Whatever. I've been living through most of the winter thus far with that tired, sugar-hangover feeling all day...but for today, at least, I feel good.

Anyway, my ridiculous sister calls after I get home from the gym, and she can't even talk she's laughing so hard. She's laughing because she's been taking retarded-looking pictures of herself on her iMac (she has one just like mine). Consequently, she thinks she's hysterically funny...which, in fact, she is. Once I see said retarded photos, I too am laughing so hard I'm nearly crying. Inspired, I ask her how I can join in the retarded-image fun...

So behold, unbelievers - see the fruits of our embarassingly juvenile labors...