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We rose early Friday morning and headed south towards Cincinnati. As we pulled around the corner to Newport on the Levee (a wonderful shopping plaza, parking garage and aquarium) Jonathan kept saying, “Go up the elevator, go up the elevator.” He had remembered from last year’s visit that there is an elevator in the parking garage!

I had purchased the tickets earlier that morning from Kroger while the boys were parading through the shower and breakfast, so we walked right in, handed them our coats and moved right into the aquarium. The Newport Aquarium is situated right across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati, in Newport, Kentucky, which is directly east of Covington. I took a different route this time, continuing on down I-75 which took us right through Covington and Newport. If you ever have a chance to drive through these two towns on the river – do it! They are beautiful. Even Andrew was pointing out items of the beautiful architecture – my sons have learned to look for unique or especially beautiful work – and they humor my architectural interests.

Jonathan’s assignment was to hold on to the strap of my backpack, and Andrew’s assignment was to not leave his older cousins’ sides. Jon won. One of the first big stops is the area where you can touch several creatures with the guidance of staff volunteers. Matt, Jose and Andrew enjoyed this particular area, and Matt – like his dad at historical sites – was pounding the volunteers with questions. We spent a good deal of time waiting in this area before entering the theatre. To me, this part of the visit is worth it. Once you are seated inside, the huge screen rises and you see divers in the tank with the shark, turtle, sting ray and other large fish.The diver, this time of year, is always dressed as Santa Claus. The best part is they and communicate with the audience. Once you leave the theatre, I always have to look at the fish native to the Outer Banks of North Carolina – one of my favorite vacation haunts. These fish are a metallic silver and when pulled from the ocean, they look like a long, wiggly mirror they are so bright in the sun light. One time, while flying my kite on the beach at Cape Hatteras – the graveyard of ships – I stood for the longest time, just watching the fishermen reel in these brilliant looking fish. For those who know me, understand this must really be a neat looking fish for me to take even the slightest interest.

The next section contains fish that glow in the dark, eels, crabs and a beautiful corral reef with all the fish you would see in Finding Nemo. In fact, you constantly here children yelling, “There’s Dory!” when they spot the blue fish. You can easily spend a long time in this area. Leaving the reef you enter the dangerous creatures – piranha and other grisly creatures. They have a turtle that is 118 years old. The last part is the alligators – and fortunately, for my stomach, they are the smaller ones – not the big, terrifying ones. Even at 41 years, my stomach becomes unsettled when I look at alligators or crocodiles – perhaps in another blog I will explain.
Finally, you enter a huge open, bright area where you can watch the otters play and go in to the bird aviary. I sat out on the risers to watch the otters (sleep) with Jonathan while the other three went in to the aviary. Afterwards, I went in while Matt sat with Jonathan and Andrew. I, like my mother, am terrified of birds – not as much as Mother, though. These birds are gorgeous and I got some great shots.

After leaving the otter and bird area, you enter, perhaps, the best part of the entire aquarium. You walk through glass tunnels while all sorts of fish – sharks included – swim all around you. It always takes some getting use to for me when a shark swims within a few feet of me while John Williams’ score for Jaws makes even more arm and neck hair stand. Ahhhhhhh! Despite the sharks nauseating presence, I still enjoy hanging out in the glass tunnels. There are a number of different species of fish, and one particular critter swam towards us with this huge gaping hole – its mouth. We promptly named this the “Dena Fish” after my younger sister.

We ate lunch in the cafeteria and then entered the last popular exhibit – the penguins. What a delight these furry entertainers are. Two mamma penguins were sitting on top of several new born penguins and the risers in front of the penguin window were packed. It probably holds 75, and there must have been well over a hundred folks hoping to capture a glimpse of the babies on the monitors where cameras were posed on them. Although my Yahoo photo site only includes approximately 6 photos, I took at least thirty shots. These feather folk know how to pose and play before their audience!

We left the aquarium and walked over to the rail that overlooks the Ohio River. We spent a good twenty minutes here so I could snap some photos. There was a college aged boy taking a photograph of his parents and I offered to take a photograph of all three. I learned they were both teachers from Athens, Ohio – he a retired principal, she finishing up teaching fourth grade. They asked about all my boys and after I explained that I had adopted my sons, the mother put her hand on her son’s shoulder and said, “This is our son we adopted 22 years ago.” I snapped a photo of this couple on my camera, as well, for I certainly enjoyed sharing a few minutes with these folks.
We left Cincinnati and headed north on I-71 so I could drive the boys through Montgomery, Ohio and a mile into Indiana Hill to see the estate, Peterloon, where a few weeks before I had attended a party with Phil Clary. Of course, as we drove up to the mansion, Jose said, “Wow! Phil must be a good choir director if he lives in a house this big.” Matthew and I were rolling. I explained to Jose that it is unlikely a public school teacher would own such an estate, and that we had only attended a party.
It was a fun and tiring day. To see all the photos from our excursion, please visit the photo section at my site:

The one thing that always chokes me up is during the end of the year when television programs list those who passed away during the year. The academy awards always takes a moment to honor those who died, and although I am grateful that I was somehow touched by their work and their lives, I am always saddened that they are no longer with us.

Last night, while chatting with Jeff Carter, who is visiting his family in Missouri, he told me that one of my favorite actors, John Spencer, who starred in The West Wing, died a week or so ago. I was numbed upon hearing the news and I am sure the telephone conversation waned. John Spencer, along with Kettering natives, Allison Janney and Martin Sheen, gave The West Wing and incredible depth that so few television shows offer. Whenever I read one of Margaret Truman’s mysteries, John Spencer is usually one of the powerful senators or congressman I picture while reading – and of course, Martin Sheen is always in my mind as the president. Spencer was an incredible actor and his fellow actors seemed to adore him.

One we lost early on this year was Johnny Carson. I loved this guy. As a very young boy, I never required much sleep – and still do not – and rather than leave me in my crib or bed, Mother would spend time with me. One of my earliest recollections is watching The Tonight Show with Mother. I can even remember when Tiny Tim married Miss Vicki on the show. Johnny, and his many characters he portrayed, was absolutely the best.

Along with Pope John Paul II and Prince Rainier of Monaco, the entertainment field will remember a number of artists who touched our lives…

Vincent Schiavelli, 57, Actor
Jack Anderson, 83, Pulitzer prize winning journalist
Bob Denver, 78, Actor Gilligan’s Island
John Spencer, 58, Actor
Richard Pryor, 65, Comedian
Pat Morita, 73, Actor
James King, 80, Opera Tenor
Chris Whitley, 45, Singer
Harry Thompson, 45, TV Producer
John Fowles, 79, Writer
Sheree North, 72, Actress
Elmer Dresslar, 80, Actor
Ronnie Barker, 76, Comedian
Robert Wise, 91, DirectorSound of Music, West Side Story
Michael Sheard, 65, Actor
Dr Robert Moog, 71, Developed electronic synthesizer
Barbara Bel Geddes, 82, Actress
James Doohan, 85, Actor – Scotty, Star Trek
Gretchen Franklin, 94, Actress
Luther Vandross, 54, Singer
Christopher Fry, 97, Playwright
Richard Whiteley, 61, TV Presenter
Anne Bancroft, 73, Actress
Sir John Mills 23rd April 97 Actor
Hunter S Thompson, 67, Writer
Arthur Miller, 89, Playwright
Johnny Carson, 79, TV Talkshow Host

My friend Jason came over last night around 9:30pm to bring me a post-Christmas gift, a tin of his famous fudge – chocolate, peanut butter and butterscotch. He returned Sunday night from his family’s residence in Cincinnati and indicated on my voice mail he was quite board until we returned from Indiana. Jason and I have a knack for being able to sit and talk about any subject for hours on end. If one of us brings up a topic that is not as familiar, we race to the computer to research, and then discuss the new topic in depth. Like Jeff Carter from Ball State, Jason is very well-read, knowledgeable, and interested in many things. We sat and visited for an hour or so last night, and the topic turned to our new year resolutions. Jason indicated that since he was settled in a lovely house (mansion), had a great job, it was time to meet someone and begin building a family. I reminded him that he could adopt as a single parent, but that just does not seem to be something he wants. Finally he asked, “Aren’t you afraid of spending the rest of your life all alone?”

Before I got my piano, I would drive over to UD’s school of music and play in the practice rooms.One evening in February 1991, I walked out of my practice room and this young blond guy, sitting on the floor in the hallway, began applauding. He had left the library for his apartment and decided to cut through the music building to get out of the snow storm. Jason heard me playing some classical literature and stopped to listen – for well over an hour. We began chatting and decided to walk in the falling snow to Denny’s on Main Street. That evening, I learned Jason, then 21, grew up in an affluent Cincinnati suburb, was finishing up a business degree, and was a young man of many interests from sports to high culture. We spent several hours at Denny’s, chatting about all sorts of things, and it was clear that we had a good deal in common and would become friends.

Before Jason graduated from UD he had already secured a great position at NCR, one of Dayton’s largest corporations right next to the UD campus. Within a few years, Jason had worked his way up the corporate latter. I went on several excursions with him to search for a home in Oakwood, and helped him decorate and arrange the furniture and art work in his home. We flew to NYC several times to see shows and of course, it always involved shopping for his home. In 1999, I stepped back into my once very successful role as “the matchmaker” and introduced Jason to a fellow music teacher, Mark Reynolds. They hit it off and the nice thing was that Jason did not abandon our friendship as often happens in new relationships. The fall of 2001, Jason received a major promotion and agreed to head up one of the satellite companies in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Mark decided to move to Toronto, too, but neither Mark nor Jason seemed truly ready for the new move to a strange city and sharing a house together. Their relationship waned, Mark returned to Seattle to teach and conduct, and Jason returned to Oakwood, resuming his former position.

One evening in 2003, Jason had joined Matthew and myself for dinner (pre-Jose era), and Matthew mentioned that he was afraid I would be left all alone once he graduated from high school. I indicated that I hoped to have more sons to raise, and once that was completed, would probably return to work in or around New York. He seemed temporarily appeased until Jason began hammering away at my isolation. Both Jason and Matthew teamed up that evening, insisting that I should begin dating. We ran into Patricia Hill, the executive director of ACTION Adoption Agency, and she too voiced her opinion – in fact, she had attempted to play matchmaker within the year of Matt’s arrival. Pat, Matt and Jason seemed to have a great argument for each of my reasons to simply enjoy my life as a single father.

Tonight, after returning from seeing Narnia and eating at Burger King with Monte and Adam Stevens, a former student, now teaching mathematics here in the Dayton area, stopped by for a visit. After catching up on career-chat, Ben asked a lot of questions about my new life as a father. The question arose again – “Are you planning on spending the rest of your life alone?”

I explained that I have no plans for anything at the moment but raising my sons and continuing with my career. My professional and personal life changed drastically when I became a father, yet, I really do not miss it. My new role as director/producer for the individual productions of Matthew and Jose are more important than anything I have ever, or will ever produce. By the time I was 30 or 35, I had pretty much accomplished all I desired as far as my career and at age 35 it was time to begin planning my family. As I explained to Jason last night, and Ben tonight, there are many who can juggle raising children and dating/relationships, and I know, without a doubt, I could do both equally well. However, I only get one shot at being a good father for each son. Pat Hill insists that I should not deny my personal life – but I don’t feel as though I am.

Since beginning a new life as a single person and moving to Ohio in 1990, I have been in three substantial relationships – one cheated, one moved away and one did not like the fact I was receiving more attention at the adoption agency where we were both adopting separately. Over the years I have gone on a number of dates arranged by friends – dates that were both good and not so good – one, however, was so bad I wanted to fake my own death before the salads arrived! Both Jason and Ben, and even other friends, believe I have completely become immune to romantic feelings! LOL! I still read the menu, I just don’t order. I guess I have always been a loner for the most part, and finding someone special with whom to share my life is just not a crucial item on my life’s agenda. Of course, when I do discover I have become interested in someone, they are already taken, married, live over an hour away, or not interested in children.

Jason and Ben both seem to have a fear of being alone. Jason is almost 36, Ben is 24, and both seem urgent in their quest for a life partner. As I explained to Jason, being a dad is a priority, and with the great investments required for a healthy relationship, it would dig into my time with my sons.

I guess I am peculiar to many who know me, as I tend to get these questions often. I see my students, former students, friends and even members of my family yearning or searching for the “right person” and sometimes, I just do not understand the urgent investment applied in the search for the “right person.” I had one friend who seemed driven by his posted internet personal which seemed to border on an obsession. Although I readily supported his quest, I was curious by his need to fill the vacancy. I have known both family and friends who end one relationship and/or marriage, and immediately begin searching for the next. I am in no way criticizing anyone – I am merely attempting to understand why some individuals have certain needs in this particular arena.

When friends insist that I am denying myself companionship and love, I almost have to laugh for I feel that I am lacking in neither department. Perhaps I am missing the boat by not having someone with whom to plod through life, hand in hand, facing the plethora of life’s offerings, but I certainly do not feel as though I am missing out on anything… at the moment.

So, to answer Jason’s question (I know he will be reading this at 5:30am when he wakes to head to the gym before work), “Aren’t you afraid of spending the rest of your life all alone?”

No. I am not. I am not afraid of spending the rest of my life with someone, and I am not afraid of spending it alone. Life takes care of itself, often times, much better without us attempting to shape it. The future will be exactly what it is meant to be… hmmm… “que serra, serra?”

We left Elwood at 9:00am and arrived in Kettering right at 11:20am. The boys unpacked all their clothes and had lunch while I set up my new camera and docking station. I love taking photographs and took the boys over to Lincoln Park for a major photo session. There is this huge sculpture called, “Children Dancing” and we took several shots there and over by the duck pond.

To see these photos, please visit

After shooting the photos we went to the United States Air Force Museum so Jonathan could see the planes. We then went out to the Wright Brothers’ memorial on Wright Hill, overlooking Huffman Prairie where the brothers did their testing in what is known as “the cradle of aviation.” We took more photos there and they are so good.

We ate dinner at Elsa’s, my favorite Mexican restaurant in South Dayton, and then went to the mall for a while.

Thus ends the first day.

Here are some photos of those attending Jonathan’s birthday party.

My sister, Dena, and my great-aunt, Norma

My nephew, Andrew, and Aunt Norma

My younger brother, Destin, and Dad

Aunt Norma, her son Wally (Gary), Dena and Mother

My youngest nephew, Parker

Family friends – Mark, Nancy & Bryce Mobly

Here are some excerpts from my journal, 8 years ago…

December 23 – woke early, did laundry, cleaned the townhouse, taught several lessons, went to Normandy Church [where I was director of music] to rehearse choir and Christmas eve performers; talked to Mother – Dena is 3 weeks over due, still no baby; finished up work on the upcoming three months of Sunday anthems and the Easter cantata; went to sleep at 4:00am.

December 24 – woke at 6:00am, shopped, wrapped and packed, loaded car; at Normandy for the four Christmas Eve services starting at 5:00pm. Two hours of sleep, but energized. Left Normandy around 1:30am and headed to Indiana.

December 25 – arrived home around 4:00am just as Destin was pulling in; sat up and talked with Mother; family up at 7:00am, breakfast, gifts, dinner. Dena still big and ready to burst with first child. Loaded the car around 9:30pm and headed to Anderson, IN to watch the new movie, Titanic. Around 2:00am headed to Centerville [Dayton].

December 26 – arrived in Centerville around 4:30am; unpacked, wrote ‘thank you’ notes, put away new items; finally into bed at 7:30am. Mother called at 8:00am to say they were taking Dena to hospital. Laid in bed for 30 minutes before rising to shower, shave and head back to Indiana. Arrived at hospital at noon where entire family was gathered; no baby. Destin was sitting in Dena’s bed watching a game while Dena sat in a rocker. My brother-in-law, Greg, was there, peculiar man and quite a hard person to know. His family trickled in and out. 11:00pm the doctor decided to halt the labor so Dena could sleep through the night. I have trouble sleeping after a Mexican dinner and cannot see how anyone could sleep with a 40 lb baby inside! Discovered I had not packed anything – clothes, toothbrush, etc. Destin offered his clean underwear and toothbrush – nausea set in. Destin, Jason and I drove over to Anderson to the Meijer’s, and returned home around 3:00am. Destin insisted we all watch a movie; head is numb and had a headache. Finally went to bed around 6:00am.

December 27 – Mother woke us at 7:00am saying the contractions were starting back up. Destin and I showered and ate breakfast at Friendly’s, went to hospital. Finally after a C-section, Jonathan Garrett Surber was born in the late afternoon. Held my first nephew and headed back to Ohio. Slept for 14 hours.

My first nephew was named after our great-grandfather, John William Garrett Clary, who had passed away in late October. It was exciting to know that I was finally an uncle. My uncles were the best and no nephew was ever luckier. How many third graders had their own black & white television set complete with an ear phone, an 8-track tape player with tapes of Chicago, Helen Ready, Cher and Credence? The best part was that they all spent time with me and seemed to truly enjoy me. My one uncle, Ron, had been died in 1987 after driving his car into the wall of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel – a suicide. When Jonathan arrived ten years later, I was still missing Uncle Ron terribly. A few weeks before Jonathan’s birth I had a dream that I was riding my bicycle in downtown Waynesville, a beautiful little community southeast of Dayton. My uncle was sitting on a park bench near the street and I pulled up and sat with him. Uncle Ron told me how excited he was that I was going to be an uncle and we talked about all the fun we had enjoyed – my visits to him in Norfolk where he was stationed in the US Navy; trips to Cape Hateras and the Outer Banks; Washington, DC; and so many other fun adventures we had enjoyed. I rose to check something in one of the many antique shops and when I returned, Uncle Ron was gone. I can remember being somewhat sad when the dream was over, but revitalized.

Jonathan was such a happy, active baby. When he began crawling, he also began climbing and was one of the most active little critters I had ever witnessed. Fourteen months later, my very fertile sister gave birth to Andrew Langlee Barmes Surber. Andrew’s middle names were from Destin, Grandpa and myself: Barmes from Leroy Barmes, and Langlee, a combination of Destin Lang and Darin Lee.

Jonathan seemed to thrive and grow into an intelligent, happy and bright little boy. I can remember how I would look over and find him looking at me, as though he was searching for something, asking questions about the world around him. Jonathan and Uncle Darin always seemed to have a wonderful connection – a spiritual connection. He was a brilliant little boy and I could hardly wait to take him to the Outer Banks, Washington, DC, the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, Conner Prairie Farm and all the wonderful places I had visited with my uncle.

Then one day, it all changed…
Jonathan stopped smiling.
There was no more laughter.
The bright sparkle in his eyes was dulled.
Behind the smiling eyes a stranger seemed to lurk, staring blankly at those of us he knew.

At first it was not as noticeable. Dena began noticing how Andrew was passing up Jonathan in his development. The fact that Jonathan could not jump up and down like Andrew was not cause for alarm. When Jonathan had stopped talking and Andrew was putting together sentences, the entire family laughed at how familiar that was that Destin did not talk for the longest time because Dena talked for him (and the rest of us). After one visit to the pediatrician, Dena was told that some tests needed to be completed. Then, we heard the word, “autism” for the first time. I barely remembered the word from my studies in counseling psychology and began researching. Destin and I spent countless hours on the internet and chatting with colleagues and school psychologists.

Since Jonathan did not speak verbally – or when he did, unintelligibly – we noticed he was using his hands. The entire family began learning sign language. For nearly two years we communicated with simple words. Eventually, Jonathan was diagnosed as “developmentally delayed” although I firmly believe is, very much, autistic. Dena has been a remarkable advocate for her son, and he has progressed more than the specialists believed he would. His speech has improved, but I am still, “Unka Baron.” At eight years old, Jonathan is as big as a fifth grader, but, mentally and emotionally, he is approximately three or four years old. He loves coming to visit Unka Baron’s and looks forward to spending the day after his birthday through January 1st with us in Ohio.

This morning I am watching Jonathan and Andrew while my sister works. Jonathan came downstairs after waking, all smiles. He came over and sat by me on the sofa where I was reading. Still, like the 9 month old baby, he looked up at me, searching for something, and smiling when he realized – after many seconds – that I was looking back at him. He smiles more, and is finally learning how to laugh and play, but there will always be the question, “What could he have been like had the one ingredient not been included in his two year booster shots?” We sat on the sofa for a good fifteen minutes. I talked to him, telling him about Uncle Darin’s story surrounding his birth and he would listen, in his own little world. Whether he truly understands is a great mystery – yet, several months later, he often does something to let us know he had indeed heard us. Once, in the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant, I was swinging him around. Six months later, we went to the same restaurant and Jonathan grabbed my arms and began swinging – he had remembered! And he even ran to the same table where we had dined.

“Go to Unka Baron’s,” were his first words. I reminded him that we would leave for Uncle Darin’s in the morning because we had to celebrate his birthday tonight. He repeated this another dozen times before running off to his mother’s room to watch the movie, Elf, the first of a total five times today. At lunch, like all other times when he eats, Jonathan descends – or ascends – into his own world, his eyes searching something in the distance – whether it is something real or imaginary is beyond us.

Tonight the house will be filled with family and friends to celebrate his birthday. Whether Jonathan completely understands the significance of the celebration is a mystery. Tomorrow, he and Andrew will join my sons and I for our annual Ohio adventure, my Christmas present to them. We will go to the Air Force Museum, the zoo, the Newport Aquarium, a movie, and an event at Riverscape on New Year’s Eve.

In many ways, I am glad this portion of the holiday season is over. I am always amazed to hear the stress in the voices of others as they prepare for this season. I hear how others agonize over shopping and wrapping – several friends writing me after I arrived in Indiana, telling me how stressed they were. Of course, my friend Doug, a Methodist minister and single father of four sons, was more overwhelmed due to the fact his organist had a fall and was unable to play for Christmas Eve services – and he still had not finished all his shopping, etc. Other musician friends were behind in their preparations due to all the concerts and their own performances…

Several years back, I decided I would not allow the stress of the season to invade my life. Yes, with two sons performing in choirs and/or show choirs, as well as students (and four schools also decided the three weeks of December were ideal for musical auditions to further add to the stress of the students and faculty!), it is still busy – however, I stay in control. My cards were prepared right after Thanksgiving and sent out the first week of December; all my shopping was completed and wrapped by December 16 so it could be sent home with my sister when we met to trade off my nephew; and I literally stayed in control of my family calendar so that we were not overwhelmed with activities. It was great. And, I refused to allow the stress of others to envelope me or the boys. It was very pleasant, and so enjoyable. The best part was spending so much time with our family friends prior to the holidays.

Christmas Eve morning we woke early to be at my sister’s for the annual family breakfast buffet where other family members, friends, neighbors, classmates, teachers, co-workers, ploice officers on duty (or off) – well, it seems as though the entire city of Elwood belches through the front and side doors for this event. Many look forward to this, and Dena, the ultimate chef and caterer, has the best spread prepared for this event. I always enjoy seeing neighbors and friends from my youth, and spending some time chatting. A neighbor of my parents’ – and now my sister who lives in the old family home – was there, and we had our doubts as to whether she would physically be able to attend. Brenda has been battling cancer for several years and the hideous disease has reared an even uglier head, depleting her of her energy. However, Brenda walked over to the house, and enjoyed herself immensely.

The day was spent visiting with family and friends, and I even worked in a two hour nap. My sister, Autumn, returned from Muncie and her youngest son, Michael, 18, a freshman at St. Joseph College in northern Indiana, arrived. Michael is majoring in biology but is wanting to switch to art or graphic arts. He is a fantastic artist, and he pulled me aside to discuss the pro’s and con’s, which I appreciated. I told him to do what he wanted to do. My dad, though well meaning, is excited that Michael was considering a career in medicine; however, it is ultimately Michael’s decision. It was getting close to dinner time and my 17 year old nephew, Justin, Christopher’s son, had not arrived from Alabama where he had visited his birth mother. Autumn’s daughter, Kelli, 22, had driven down to the airport in Indianapolis to get him, but they were running behind schedule. Dad was wanting me to chat with Justin about his career choice – theatre. Dad said, “I want my grandsons to do what they enjoy what they do, but I am worried about trying to make a life in theatre…” Then he looked over and said, “I know you have done well, but you were always more of a director – the ‘take-charge’ fellow… Justin isn’t.” Since I did not get to chat with Justin I will try to do so before I return to Ohio.

In the evening, Mother, the boys, Dena, my nephews and I drove to Muncie for a Chinese supper. Christmas Eve 2000, Mother and I discovered she and I were the only ones remaining home so we drove towards Indianapolis, finding a Chinese restaurant open. That has become our traditional Christmas Eve haunt. This year, we made a change in venue since Dena and the boys were joining us. We returned to Elwood with several hours of down time before our Christmas Eve services at the Christian Church. I began going there in 7th grade, as a guest of my band director, Paula Simmons, and the junior high secretary, Jeanette Fortson, who passed away this fall. We would finish up our family Christmas Eve gathering, head to Ford Street United Methodist Church, and Paula would pick me up for the East Main Street Christian Church’s service which always began with thirty minutes of special music at 10:30pm, the cantata/candlelight service starting at 11:00pm. This year, for some reason, did not feel like Christmas Eve. I think the boys and I both would have preferred to be back in Dayton, attending CE services where we have been attending regular Sunday worship. After this year’s CE service, it felt even less like Christmas Eve! The special music in previous years, was always beautiful. This year a projection screen lowered and a lady at the baby grand led the congregation in familiar tunes, “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” and “White Christmas” and several other familiar melodies which, to me, were terribly inappropriate for the service. Each year, the minister seems to grow more and more evangelical, almost to the point of portraying a pentacostal, and by the end of this year’s service I was prepared for him to thrash about the alter speaking in tongues. I just felt as though there was little preparation and planning, and the service fell short of what we generally experience. When we were with Jeff and AJ Friday, I almost asked if they minded us attending services with them.

Christmas morning Mother went to Dena’s to watch the nephews unwrap their presents from Santa. Since I had finally fallen asleep around 2:00am due to a fantastic History channel presentation, I took this opportunity to sleep in. After showering, everyone descended upon the house for gifts and dinner, which was delicious. Dena, Destin and I had a quilt designed for Mother will all our photos on it – and we had been so careful with not divulging anything… well, Dena, Destin and I unwrapped very similar quilts Mother had hired the same lady make for each of our families! The best laid plans… I also got a digital camera from my sister, many nice sweaters, and a ton of other wonderful gifts. And of course, my sons were flying high with portable DVD players, lazer tag games, clothes, Hummers…

Christmas Eve night was quiet. Dena had all the nephews for the night and the house here was quiet. I almost called Jeff and AJ, but decided they were probably busy. Around 10:30pm I discovered I had left my cell phone in the car and when I retrieved it, I found a four hour old message from Jeff. But, I felt it was too late since they were leaving for Lee Summit, Missouri to spend the remainder of the holiday with Jeff’s family.

I woke this morning to begin taking down all the decorations. I called Jeff and AJ, who were on the road, and learned that I could have spent Christmas Eve with them, as well as last evening when I had some down time. Dena brought my freshly showered sons back here and we completed the transformation by noon.

Thus, the celebrations of Christmas 2005 has come to a close. Tuesday night we celebrate my nephew, Jon’s 8th birthday and we return to Dayton with two extra boys -Jonathan and Andrew. We will go to the Air Force Museum, the Cincy Zoo, the Newport Acquarium and some other things; Thursday I will teach a few students; Friday, I will find some New Year’s Eve event like we did last year (seeing Dora The Explorer at Riverscape since Jonathan loves Dora). Sunday, we will attend services and then return to Indiana to drop off the boys. I am hoping to spend some time with some friends, as well.

We arrived in Elwood around 10:30pm Thursday evening and drove immediately to my sister’s to drop off my nephew, Andrew, who had stayed the week with us. Some friends of hers were over so we visited with them a spell before heading over to Mother’s.

Friday morning I finished a few odds and ends, and at 1:30pm the boys and I headed 35 miles south to Indianapolis. We met Jeff Carter, and his 21yo son, AJ, at the Monument Circle and took a few photographs before heading to Circle Center Mall to watch King Kong. Although a tad long, the movie was very good and the special effects were amazing.

Following the movie, we walked to Houlihans for dinner and of course, conversation with Jeff and AJ is always enjoyable.

The Circle plaza was busy, but not as busy as it generally is this time of year. As a child, I can still remember shopping visits to down-town Indianapolis when it was still fashionable to head downtown. One year, my grandparents took me to the top of the Soldier & Sailor Monument which I still remember with great fondness. There has always been something thrilling for me when I visit Indianapolis, and at 41, I was just as excited. Once the boys are raised, I have no idea where life will take me – I could return to directing full time, maybe head to NYC or even Indianapolis.

Jeff and I led our sons on a walk to a really neat Borders Books & Music. Jeff purchased some books, and the boys and I left with CD’s. I finally purchased the sound track to Light In The Piazza which won the Tony for best music – the composer being Richard Rodgers’ grandson. I also purchased the soundtrack to Ladies In Lavender, a wonderful movie I saw this summer (featured in an August blog posting). This soundtrack features the talent of violinist, Joshua Bell.

Jeff, AJ, Matthew, Jose and I finished off the evening at Steak & Shake with shakes, coffee and conversation. We bid our dear friends farewell and we returned to Elwood. What a fantastic family event, made all the more special sharing it with Jeff & AJ.

To learn more about the Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Monument in Indianapolis, and to see more photographs, please visit:

Sunday, just as Pastor Monte was starting announcements, he said, “Merry Christmas… or should I say, ‘Happy Holidays’?” The crowd of Lutherans began jeering with boos (and a few hisses) which confused me because I thought Lutherans only jeered at the end of the sermon and I had completely missed it! Of course, there would be no booing or hissing following Pastor Monte’s sermons as he ranks up there with pastors Mike Johnson and Steve Makofka. Monte was, of course, deliberately poking at the recent controversial wave of “Happy Holidays” vs. “Merry Christmas.”

I have always purchased cards with “happy holidays” as I always considered it to include my New Year’s greeting as well, and never thought more about it… I always write notes so “Merry Christmas” was always on the inside – and that was it.

A few years back, I tried to do the right thing with the politically correct fad that was so short lived… now, I just don’t even try. African Americans are back to being “Blacks” – which many seem to prefer; I never played cowboys and Native Americans as a child; and the heavy set disgruntled customer in front of me at Meijers last week became “that fat old biddy.”

I was raised knowing one can never please everyone… afterall, has God ever truly won this battle??? If He can’t accomplish this after billions of years and dealing with so many personalities, why should I try anything other than my best? So, if I accidentally greet a Jewish brethren (who has no name tag with Joel Frankl) with a “Merry Christmas,” I goof. If Ahkmead, the pharmacist at the CVS pharmacy counter is offended by my”Merry Christmas” – great! At least it might change the blank expression he generally wears…

Like I tell my sons, sometimes it is more effective being the small stone that makes a ripple rather than the big boulder that makes a splash. Sometimes, splashes are necessary – very necessary to get some of the excess water out of the pond or puddle; however, with a small stone, there are ripples and you generally do not loose much, if any, water…

I walk through the stores with a smile on my face – if it catches on, great. If it doesn’t – great. I at least tried… and that fat old biddy in front of me in the check-out lane cannot go to bed that night saying, “No one smiled at me today.”

Today is a day I have always enjoyed celebrating – the birthday of my great-grandmother, Mary Belle Jones-Clary.

This is a post from December 20, 2005…

Once upon a time, there was the most darling little lady, christened Mary Belle Jones, the daughter of Joel Monroe Jones & Anna Greenlee Jones. Mary Belle, or Belle, as she was to be called all her life, was born December 20, 1897, (one hundred eight years ago today) in Boone Township of Madison County, Indiana.

Belle, though a beautiful young girl, had a somewhat sad expression,but was always full of cheerfulness and tremendous kindness to all who knew her. Little is known of her early years – childhood or teens. We know she had three younger brothers, Alphie, Henry (who died at age two years) and Harry. However, beyond that, the accounts are thin.

In September 1920, she married John William Garrett Clary, also of Madison County. Garrett’s maternal family, the Nobles, were prominent pioneers of Clearmont County, Ohio, having lived in Snow Hill, Maryland since the 1600’s. The Nobles moved near the Ohio River settling Clearmont County in 1801. One of the Noble sons went on to become the first mayor of Cincinnati. Despite his “noble” ancestry, Garrett was a farmer, working a variety of odd jobs as a young man in Elwood, Indiana. How Belle and Garrett met is unknown.

A month past their first wedding anniversary, Ronald Monroe Clary was born, followed two years later by Donna May Clary (Barmes). Nine years after Donna’s birth, Joyce Ann Clary (Riser) was born. There are plenty of accounts about Belle and Garrett as strong, fun-loving, practical-joke-playing and loving parents. Still to this day, anecdotes of their humor is a familiar topic after family dinners.

In 1937, tragedy struck when fifteen year old Ronald was thrown,or fell, from a horse. Belle, a short woman standing barely 4′-10″, and 13 year old, Donna, who barely reached 5′-0″ as an adult, trampled a wire fence to recover the fatally injured Ronald. Sadly, Ronald died and was buried in Forrestville Cemetery with five previous generations of his family. Fifty years later, Donna’s son, Ronald, named for the uncle he never knew, was killed in a tragic automobile accident.

The years passed and Belle became a deeply beloved grandmother, and by 1964, a great-grandmother, when I was born. In the home of their family farm, there was a coo-coo clock. As a little baby, Grandpa Garrett would hold me up to the clock, wind the hands so the little bird would peek out to my delight. As I began talking, they were dubbed, “Mamaw & Papaw Coo-coo.” Until he died in 1997, I was the only one who could call him “Grandpa Coo-coo.”

Although I can barely hear the sound of her voice in my memory, her spirit is still very much a part of my life. Those who knew her often comment on her extreme kindness towards everyone. I can still remember the day in December 1968 when she was wheeled from her home in Elwood to the hospital for the last time. I was instructed to remain on the davenport in the living room and as they wheeled her past me, she reached out her hand for mine. “Be a good boy.” The following January, one of earth’s own angels went to be with the heavenly angels.

Every December 20th, I remember this darling little woman. Unlike the women in my previous submission who served as first ladies, Belle Clary never attained national prominence, and the only monument to her memory can be seen in Forrestville Cemetery. However, thirty-six years since she passed away, her indefatigable legacy of kindness and compassion is still enriching the lives of her family – even those who did not know her.

“Someday, I hope that someone will take the time to consider the role of the First Lady and assess the many burdens she has to bear and the many contributions she makes.” Harry S. Truman, President, 1945-1953

Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Roselyn Carter, Betty Ford; 1993

Before the invention of photography most Americans had little idea what their president or his wife looked like. As photograph and film images became available it was easier for the American public to develop a relationship with the First Family. The activities of the First Family became a part of the everyday life of John Q. Public. Researchers call this kind of relationship, “para-social interaction.” Viewers begin to believe that they know the people they see in print or on television in the same way they know their friends and associates. Psychologically these relationships have the same characteristics as a real friendship or enmity which is why there is often a massive outpouring of public grief when a President is injured or ill, or a national frenzy over a wedding in the White House.

Lady Bird Johnson

America’s interest in and affection for the various women who have served as First Lady has depended largely on the way the media has portrayed her. Jacqueline Kennedy was the first president’s wife to have her own press secretary who managed the relationship between the President’s wife and the media. Each First Lady since then has developed her own relationship with the press through her own efforts and through the careful attention of the President’s advisers. Presidential advisers closely monitor the way the First Lady is perceived by the media and the public because her approval rating can have a direct effect on the popularity of the President.

Bess Truman

The role of the First Lady of the United States of America has evolved since the days of Martha Washington. Each of the women who served in this capacity has made her own contribution to the position. Some of the women such as Abigail Adams, Dolly Madison, and Eleanor Roosevelt publicly played active roles as adviser to their husbands and were influential in his decisions about political issues. Other women such as Leticia Tyler, Lucretia Garfield, Eliza Johnson and Ida McKinnley played little or no role in public life after their husbands were elected. The first three women had serious illnesses that prevented them from participating in social or ceremonial activities; Mrs. McKinnley was in deep mourning for her son who died shortly before her husband’s election.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Even though she is neither elected or appointed to her position, the job requires that the First Lady be on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. She receives no salary or other monetary compensations for her work. She has to be willing to accept that everything she says, everything she wears, every action she takes will be closely monitored, reported, and commented on by the media. Every thing she does in her role as First Lady will be criticized and praised. Her life before her time in the White House will be closely scrutinized and it will be necessary for her to build a relationship with the American public that is based primarily on how the media portrays her.

Jackie Kennedy

All of them have faced challenges that might break a lesser woman. Each of them has touched a different place in America’s heart. Being the First Lady is a difficult job that each of these women performed with their own particular grace and style.

The first musical I ever wrote was begun the spring of 1987. I was intending to write a rather lengthy choral piece on the life of Lincoln and was including a moment with Mrs. Lincoln. I had always believed her to be the shrew portrayed in history, and thought, “Poor Abraham Lincoln, married to Mary Todd.” After finishing my initial research my thought was, “Poor Mary Todd, married to Abraham Lincoln.”

My musical, Love Is Eternal, is a tender, thorough portrayal of the vilified former first lady, opening with the widow in the asylum to which she was confined after her eldest, and only surviving son had her committed for fear she would spend his inheritance.

The story of Mary Todd Lincoln, one of history’s most misunderstood heroines, cannot fail to leave its audience moved and breathless, no matter what their age. The fierce divisions and blistering passions of post-Civil War America, as well as the ever-changing influence of women in the halls of American power, are made profoundly personal in this highly accurate account of an extraordinary first family.

Historians have often recognized Mrs.Lincoln as America’s first “first lady,” in the modern sense. Never content to sit idly by, Mary Todd took an active interest in her husband’s administration, causing ever-increasing controversy and uproar among congressional leaders who resented her access and influence. Also, she took it upon herself to redesign and refurbish a White House that had been woefully neglected. She added heating and plumbing, often at personal expense, ultimately throwing herself heavily into debt. Having already lost two sons prior to the horror at Fords Theater, she plunged into a depression made even worse by bankruptcy. Then, in what seemed a final finishing blow, she lost yet another son to illness and in her grief became delusional and uncontrollable. Though well intentioned, her oldest and only surviving son, Robert, added one last insult to injury. Fearing for her safety, he went to court to have her committed, causing a lasting rift in both her family and in the already scandalized southern society in which she was raised.

Mary Todd made a miraculous recovery. Swiftly recapturing her sanity and grace, she held tenaciously to the wit, lucidity, and love for life and family that were the hallmarks of her character. Hers is a story of an unquestionable triumph. Against all odds, Mary Todd Lincoln emerged as an indomitable woman who refused to surrender her spirit and dignity, and found the strength to rise above the unbelievable trauma and loss that had been repeatedly dealt to her.

To see photographs or portraits of our country’s first ladies, please visit:

I often joke at the coffee commercial “celebrate the moments of your life” and it has become an even more poignant statement since purchasing my first coffee maker this week. Well, this turned out to be one of those days of celebration, as it was a wonderful day through and through.

En route to church I chatted with Mother, a Sunday morning ritual, either on a long Flyer walk or driving to church. We turned on to Kurtz and the cars were lined up for the church’s cantata! Thus began our day…

The church had the most wonderful cantata this morning. The 10 piece orchestra was comprised of some of the Miami Valley’s most talented, and they certainly did a phenomenal job. The choir, a little larger than Sunday mornings, filled the front of the church and right up the altar steps. They did such a great job. The cantata, Journey of Hope, was written by two of my favorite contemporary composers, Camp Kirkland & Tom Fettke – and they did not let me down with this particular setting. The entire service was just exceptionally great. Since he was playing “second fiddle” this morning to the performers, Pastor Monte sat with us in the front row (I felt like my grandfather sitting right up front! How Methodist of me!). Towards the end of the cantata I saw a blue church bulletin being shuffled back and forth. Since we were face to face with the performers, I was especially concerned with any distractions. As I turned to retrieve the bulletin from my two sons, I discovered it was heading back to Pastor Monte who began the bulletin-mail. How reminiscent of Grandma Donna and me (as a teenager) at our home Methodist church…

After the cantata, I got to meet Chris Stevens’ parents, Margaret & Cash, from Columbus, as well as her younger sister, Barbara. Chris suggested a family portrait since Adam was wearing a tie, so I set up a bench in front of the tree and a stained glass window, and posed Chris, Monte, Nathaniel and Adam while a parishioner with a camera took the photographs.

Afterwards, the Stevens family, Chris’ parents, my sons and nephew, Andrew, who is staying with us for the week, took off for Anticoli’s for lunch.

After lunch, we hurried to Vandalia-Butler High School for the choral department’s holiday concert. Kevin Wilson, one of the area’s stronger choral directors, put on a good concert with a hundred plus voices. His repertoire was very well selected, and proved to be a great afternoon of choral singing.

I love the story behind Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from The Messiah. Apparently, during the second performance in London, King George II, tired and stiff from sitting so long, stood just as this particular chorus began – well, when the monarch stands, the subjects stand. At the next performance, those who had been present at the with the king must have thought it was a royal decree to stand nearly 250 years. Since we are no longer a “Merry Christmas” society, I am sure the Christian faith is blamed for this tradition… blame it on Georgy!

After the concert, Chris & Monte invited us back to their home for coffee. 13yo Adam rode with us, and of course, he and Jose are a pair! As we drove down their street Adam shouted, “There’s our house!” We all laughed as we were surrounded by houses.
Monte & Chris’ new home is so much what I would like for a brand new home of my own. It is a two-story Springbrook design, and the layout is absolutely perfect. Chris is an amazing decorator, and even more so with a glue gun and her own creations. With some encouragement, I believe I could become as creative in the home decor department. Oui! “Creations by Jolliffe-Haas” could be my next venture.

And then there was coffee… since I am now an official coffee maker owner, I am keen on learning more. Chris’ coffee had such a wonderful flavor – and I learned a great secret – a dash of cinnamon with the coffee grounds. As I write this, I am on my second cup, with two more to come!

The best part was the laughter and conversation. I do feel my life has been enriched by meeting the Stevens family, and I know my sons feel the same. On the drive home – a beautiful snow filled sky straight out of a Currier & Ives print, “Silver Lumina on I-75” – Matt said, “Dad, I didn’t know ministers could be such fun people. I thought they would always be dull and quiet and have homes that were like most churches – but they’re not like that at all.” I had to laugh, as I had grown up with ministers, teachers and police officers all my life!

How this moment began…
This “moment of my life” actually began in 1991. I moved to Dayton in 1990, and in February 1991 I began my tenure as director of worship & music at Faith In Christ Lutheran Church in Springfield, Ohio. There I met this wonderful family, the Posts. Bill & Cindy’s children were all very young, Simon, their youngest was only five. Now, Stacey is a mother of two, Elaine is in her third year of college, and Simon is a freshman in college. One summer, Cindy’s sister, Valerie Lockhart, drove over from Indiana with her new born, red-headed son, Jackson. After leaving Faith In Christ Lutheran Church in 1993, I remained in touch with the Post family.

In January of 2002, I received a telephone call from Valerie – Jackson was in the fifth grade and was wanting to take piano lessons. They showed up for their first lesson and I got to meet Jackson’s younger sister, Sophie, who eventually became a piano student as well.

In 2003, Valerie introduced me to her friends, the Berlons – Amanda, Scott, Zach and Caleb. Zach, a year younger than my son, Matthew, became a piano student. When Jose arrived, he and Caleb were in the same pod/family at Van Buren Middle School. Both Matt and Zach are in concert choir and show choir at Fairmont, and Jose and Caleb are still good friends. Scott and Amanda and I are very similar in parenting styles and values, and our sons are very similar in personalities. This summer I enjoyed several outings with the Berlon & Haas boys, and our families tend to see a good deal of each other.

Last month, Chris Stevens called. “Hello, I am a friend of Valerie Lockhart and she…” Chris and Valerie had grown up together in Columbus and remained in touch all these years. Several times, when we were church shopping, Valerie, knowing I had a deep appreciation for Lutheran liturgy, suggested we visit North Riverdale Lutheran Church. To be honest, I was so spoiled by the sermons, ministry style and friendship of Mike Johnson at Faith In Christ, I was not terribly interested in exploring another Lutheran church – no one could do it as well as Mike. And, I have eaten my thoughts. Once I met Chris and Nathaniel, I was easily lured to Monte’s parish. It was an easy sell – and for those who know DLJH know I am terribly critical in this arena!

Tomorrow afternoon, one of the Havener children will begin piano lessons. The Haveners are also friends of the Lockharts, and have six adopted children!

So today, it seemed as though I was continuing to celebrate a moment in my life that began nearly fifteen years ago with the Post family. With so many new friends this past year, reconnecting with a number of college friends, and the many wonderful friends I dearly love, I feel so blessed this Christmas/holiday season.

And last Wednesday morning, following the Van Buren Middle School music concert, Valerie Lockhart said, “Since I have had success in introducing you to the Berlons, the Stevens, and now the Haveners, there is one more I want you to meet – he’s fresh out of college and is our children’s choir director at church…”

Valerie should build a career with her tremendous skill at matching family friends!

Whew! I cannot believe it is now December 16th, but am also relieved. Jose’s concert at Van Buren Middle School was Wednesday morning, and he was NERVOUS. As we were tying his tie, he asked me if I got nervous.

“Well, not since 1987. I finally told myself there was no need to be nervous and I stopped being nervous before shows.”

“1987? That was five years before I was even born,” he sighed.

The concert was great and the seventh grade chorus – comprised of 26 men and 31 women (great guys!) – was outstanding. In fact, they sang better than the eighth grade chorus. Poor Jose was still nervous and he could barely open his mouth – which truly surprised me. His face had terror written all across it. Jose smiled now and then, but for the most part he was stone. After school he bounced into my study, excused himself to my student and proclaimed, “I will be better the next time because I know what to expect. I won’t be as nervous.” Yes, Jose put another positive spin to one of his life experiences.

Wednesday night I ran over to the high school for the dance call-back auditions for The Music Man. The new music wing is now open and the auditions were held in front of the new mirrors in the choir room. Matthew got off work at 8:00pm and came over for the auditions, so I took a few minutes to show him all the neat stuff in the new Performing Arts Center.

Thursday, today, was busy with all sorts of activities and errands. The snow began around 10:00am and did not stop until after 4:30pm – not too bad, but a wet, heavy snow. I began boiling a chicken for a chicken noodle, mashed potatoes and corn dinner – and while I was working the chicken broth boiled over and began smoking. It was not until the haze became so great in front of my computer screen that I actually realized there was smoke… then the alarm went off. I had doors and windows open, fans running, Flyer and Logan hiding (but still wanting to haunt the kitchen where they knew the chicken was)… When my first student arrived at 2:15pm there was still a gentle haze – of course, he figured it was one of my theatrical lighting tricks.

The weather was nasty and all evening events were canceled. So no concert tonight for the bands and choirs – which was basically a repeat of Tuesday. After dinner, the boys and I ran errands of grocery and Christmas shopping. I now have most of it completed. We tripped into Wal-Mart for a few items and I found a three-piece set of a coffee maker, a stainless steel toaster, and a stainless steel crock pot for $24.95. What a bargain. I have never had a coffee maker, and I was excited. I am not really a coffee drinker, but if it is there, I will drink it. When Mother is here for visits, or Jeff Carter, I feel bad as I don’t have coffee.

We got home and unloaded the car, put groceries away and I busied myself with some odds and ends. A little after 10:00pm, Jose and I returned to Wal-Mart so I could get coffee, creamer and filters. Saturday is the 102nd anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk, and Jose’s Language Arts class is watching a video and having a party, so we got some tiny donuts to add to the celebration. While we were in Wal-Mart it began snowing and within 20 minutes, the parking lot, already a sheet of ice that came within an hour of our first visit – was covered with snow. At home, I set up my new coffee maker – not too difficult and I did not even need to call Brody, Jeff, Mother or Dena to figure out how to operate it.

So, here I sit, on a beautiful December evening – a full moon, and a light snow falling – celebrating the moments of my life…

Wow! I hear folks say that I look younger than my 41 years, and have more energy than most my age… well, after an all-nighter this past Friday, and a near all-nighter Sunday night, I am feeling less energized this week.

Monday was spent resting. Today, I had an interview with Susan Pringle at the MUSE Machine ( concern a part-time position with the education department, but she indicated that with my strong theatrical background, they were toying with possibly turning it into a full time position to include the production territory. Interesting, but I am not sure how it will fit with my teaching and family life. Maybe, the time has come for a complete change. Time will tell.

I returned home to teach and then hurry with Jose over to the high school for the orchestra/choral concert, and then a complete combined-ensembles (symphony orchestra and band, and all the choirs) for A Christmas Festival and Hallelujah Chorus. Thursday will be the concert for the bands, followed by a repeat performance of the two combined pieces.

Brody told me that we now have possession of the new facilities. After the concert, I gave a quick tour to some of the senior parents who I felt deserved a peek. So, all my work for next week’s move may be slightly altered.

Phil called and would like the boys to come to Cincinnati Friday evening for dinner, a movie by the fireplace, and an all-boy slumber party. Saturday he would like to hike around the parks, maybe take in the art museum with Matt and Jose. He also wants to discuss Matt traveling to Europe with him this summer for a week or two.

My sister’s youngest son, Andrew, 6, will be off school all next week and she was expecting to find a babysitter for the entire week – however, I called Dena and arranged for him to stay with us next week. So, we may need to alter our Saturday plans to meet her half way for a child-exchange. I also need to finish all my shopping so I can send some of the packages home with Dena so we have enough room to return in the car with three boys, myself, Flyer, suitcases and other gifts.

We are all looking forward to spending next Friday, December 23, with Jeff and AJ for fun in Indianapolis. Although I tend to dread this time of year, I have really enjoyed a more social life these past few weeks with Monte, Phil, Jeff and AJ – all of whom are such wonderful role models for my sons – and good friends to me.

Well, the Sunday for a concert and a party which I had been eagerly awaiting, arrived. After church, the boys and I grabbed a Chinese dinner and then I hurried home to change in to my new suit. I arrived at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral in downtown Cincinnati ten minutes before the concert began ( The Vocal Arts Ensemble is conducted by Earl Rivers, the choral conductor at CCM. Earl is also the ex-husband of an old Fred Waring/show choir friend and choreographer, Stephanie “Stevie” Rivers. My good friend, Phil Clary, had a ticket waiting for me at will-call, and I enjoyed one of the best choral ensembles I have heard in years. It made me dearly miss my years with the Ball State Chamber Choir. Their repertoire was phenomenal and I could have listened for several more hours. For more information on the Vocal Arts Ensemble please go to:

Following the concert, I road with Phil to a restaurant overlooking the city of Cincy so he could purchase several gift certificates for the ensemble staff. The view was breathtaking and I wish we could have enjoyed a dinner there. We picked up my car and I followed Phil to his home in Eden Park which is another wonderful view of the city, right next to Playhouse In The Park. Phil’s new three story condo is gorgeous, and he certainly knows how good taste – very impressive. Phil changed into his suit, and then we took off for a north eastern suburb, Indian Hills, where Phil teaches choir at the high school.

The party was held at an estate called Peterloon, a landmark estate, for the benefit, education, and enjoyment of Greater Cincinnati. Peterloon was built in the Georgian style between 1928 and 1930 and designed by the architects Delano & Aldrich. The home’s deceptive scale ingeniously obscures its five stories, 36 rooms, 19 fireplaces, and 21 baths.

The home of Mr. and Mrs. John J. Emery, its major reception rooms and bedroom suites are fitted with authentic 18th-century English carved pine paneling. Peterloon’s rooms contain their original collections of furnishings and art, including a drawing of Mr. Emery by the artist John Singer Sargent and portraits by Mrs. Emery’s father, Charles Dana Gibson.

Walled gardens, terraces, and lawns extend down a hill to a terraced circular pool and on to an eight-acre lake, which the house overlooks. In 1979, the Peterloon estate and 72 of its original 1,200 acres of land were placed in a foundation which opened the home and its grounds for both public and private enjoyment and use.

John Josiah Emery Jr. (1898-1976) was a patron of architecture and the arts in Cincinnati as well as one of the region’s outstanding civic and industrial leaders. He was a nephew of Mrs. Thomas J. Emery, who designed and founded the Village of Mariemont, 10 miles east of Cincinnati. He was the principal developer in 1929-1931 of the 50-story Carew Tower and the adjacent Art Deco masterpiece Netherland Hotel (now the Netherland Hilton), which serves as a centerpiece of downtown Cincinnati.
After World War II Mr. Emery developed the Terrace Plaza Hotel (now the Crowne Plaza). Artwork created for the hotel’s public spaces by Alexander Calder, Joan Miro, and Saul Steinberg now resides at the Cincinnati Art Museum, where Mr. Emery was a long-term Board Chair.

Irene Langhorne Gibson Post Emery (date-1973) was a daughter of the artist and cartoonist Charles Dana Gibson and a niece of Nancy Langhorne, Lady Astor, who was the first female member of the British House of Commons. Mrs. Emery was, along with her sisters, one of the original “Gibson Girls.”

The party was first class – all the way and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I met one docent who was assisting at the party and she shared a good deal of history with me. While the ensemble sang for the guests of the party, the docent took me to the “guest wing.” Wow! I got to read some letter written by the architect, William Delano. Delano was the uncle of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and was quite a valuable voice in the 1948-1952 reconstruction of the White House under the Truman Administration. Delano is also the designer of the Truman balcony on the bowed south portico of the White House.

After the elegant party, we returned to Phil’s so he could give me the 10 cent tour of his home. He insisted that he treat me to his hot chocolate with homemade whipped cream and a cap of Buttersnaps! Delicious, and very comforting on a cold December evening. We discussed some of his art work he wished to hang and a variety of other topics – running out of time with 1:15am. I returned home at 2:10am and went straight to bed, but hating to close my eyes… what a fun evening – so different from what I generally experience.

Friday evening I finished teaching and once Matt got home from work at 8:00pm I drove Matt and Jose to the church we have been attending for a youth lock-in. Since the boys were still fairly new to this church, I decided they would only stay until midnight to ease their comfort zone. I dropped them off and then hurried to ACTION to meet with some families. I returned to the church around 10:30pm and discovered one of the chaperones was ill and could not make it, and the other chaperone was heading to bed promptly after pizza. Only 15 or so teenagers were expected, but 32 arrived! I took pity on poor Pastor Monte who was to chaperone all 32 teenagers in a three story church. Jose began asking Monte if he would please see if he and Matt could stay all night…

Thus began a very long night. The best part was getting to have several moments to chat with Monte. There have been so few good ministers whose work/sermons I totally respect, admire and can sit through without being critical – Mike Johnson and Steve Makofka have to be two of the best I have known. Finally, I can add a third – Monte Stevens. These three men are tremendous speakers, as well as excellent ministers.

Around 7:30am, Monte and I began waking those who were still sleeping, and they packed up and departed by 8:30am. Although I was exhausted, it was such a delightful time. The teens were great, and I really enjoyed getting to know a few.

I slept until around 11:00am, and then worked for a few hours and decided to take a nap – which lasted until 5:30pm. I ate supper with the boys and then returned to bed with a book. I am sure I will still be catching up on rest the remainder of the coming week… but it was worth it.

Yesterday I had this strange sensation in my stomach as the afternoon hours ticked away – there was a snow storm coming! The meteorological indicated it would begin around 4:00pm. My students began arriving at 2:15pm, each hoping for a snow day. I was concerned for some of my high school students when Tyler Allen, one of my basses, was outlining the Symphonic Chorale and vocal jazz groups’ evening performance. I would not want my child driving in such conditions. Tyler assured me he would not be driving.

I was concerned that the snow storm has begun up north when Nate Stevens, my 3:15pm voice student from Vandalia (about 20 miles to the north) did not show. At 4:15, as I started Jill Cordonnier’s hour long piano/saxophone lesson, I noticed a few flakes beginning to fall and within a few minutes it was a snow shower – heavy! At 4:30pm, Nate and his dad, Monte, showed up. Nate got his times mixed up (Mondays he comes at 4:30pm for an hour, and Thursdays he comes at 3:15pm for an hour). I felt sorry sending them back out into the sheet of falling white that by now had covered everything, but I also knew it was only going to get worse.

The Hetzers canceled their lesson after Jill’s and by this time, the call-outs from the school were coming through on the telephone. Terence Kalba, the former ballet star and choreographer, now turned science teacher, stopped by to make sure I knew the dance call-backs for the school’s musical were canceled. We talked for a few minutes and then he hurried home to begin snow plowing his drive.

The traffic in front of our home was moving at a crawl. Matt had left for work, so it was only Jose and I left at home. The perfect time for Chinese!

“Are we ordering it from the restaurant?” Jose asked.

“Foolish boy! When the snow falls hard, our family has never yielded to such practice. We are like the great hunters and we venture forth for our food.”

Jose’s expression registered confusion.

“Get your coat on. We’re going to Wal-Mart and then for Chinese.”

With that, the Happy Wanderer darted for the closet, put on his coat, and grabbed the broom to clear off the snow from the car. In a few minutes we were moving slowly on the snow covered streets. The five minute trip to Wal-Mart took approximately twenty minutes. The parking lot was packed and the store bordered on chaos as people seemed to move at a frantic speed.

In line, we were chatting with one of Jose’s friends. I introduced myself to his mother and as she gave me her name, the Wal-Mart speaker’s blared with an announcement for its “holiday shoppers.” I acknowledged her introduction hoping I would not be quizzed later. She finished her purchase and left. As we neared the parking lot I asked Jose his friend’s name.

“He is Brooks, but I can’t remember his last name.”


“Yes. He’s a nice kid.”

I quickly searched for Brooks and his mother in the parking lot, but they had apparently left. I had known Brooks since he was a tiny baby. Brooks’ grandmother, Gladys, was the companion of a dear friend, Bob Johnson, a co-band director with me in Centerville in the early 1990’s. Gladys’ daughter, Diane, had two beautiful children – a daughter, now a sophomore in high school with Matt, and of course, Brooks, who is in Jose’s class. The Spring of 2004 I learned, a year after the fact, that Bob had died. A few weeks later at the Van Buren Middle School awards ceremony, I ran into Diane and I told her I just learned of Bob’s death and would contact her mother. The next day, my grandfather died and of course, I completely forgot about Bob’s passing for a while. I was so upset that I did not recognize Diane last night… so I must make a telephone call to apologize for my slip.

Jose and I finished dinner and made it to the library and home without an incident. I walked Flyer on the high school lawn and then drove over to pick up Matt. We ate some cake and ice cream while watching television for 30 minutes and then the boys retreated to their bedroom with a board game. My dear friend, Jeff Carter, called from Ball State to describe the snow back in Indiana, and to chat about other things until E.R. came on television.

I decided to turn in early and as I was finishing up some Emails, my student, Nate popped on AIM. He told me of the adventure he and his father had on their return to Vandalia – they hit a snow covered curb and damaged their axel. After that, he immediately jumped into discussions of musical theatre, telling me he had listened to a clip of Benjamin Magnuson singing an excerpt from Sweeney Todd on National Public Radio (NPR). Eventually, this conversation led to a lengthy discussion on religion… my early night quickly crept through Letterman’s show and the talk show that follows it… ugh! 1:00am was upon us. I went to bed with a new library book on the Kennedy assassination which was told from all the media coverage. I glanced up at the clock by my bed and it screamed in square red numbers: 3:22am. Argh!!!!!

I woke at 6:30am and immediately noticed the school was dark. Generally the custodians are busy by 6:30am and a few teachers are already preparing for their day. I turned the television on to see that Kettering schools were closed. Matt, however, was up and awake at 6:35am – on the one day that he could have actually remained in bed. Normally, I begin Operation Wake-Up with Matt at 6:40am and it continues until 7:00am. This morning, I returned to my bed and slept until 9:00am.

This morning, he hugged me, hurried back up to grab his towel and hit the shower. It is now 11:30am and he has been upstairs cross-stitching Christmas gifts all morning. Jose and Flyer just returned from playing out in the snow. I think Flyer built a snow man and Jose probably urinated on it… those two can switch roles so fast.

Tonight Matt works and when he returns at 8:00pm, I will drop the boys off at the Lutheran church (where Nate’s father, Monte, is minister) for a partial lock-in party while I head to support group at ACTION Adoption to visit with families who were hopefully granted new children this week. There is one couple in particular, Ted and Annie Caudill, I wish to see. They are dolls! I hope they get their three children from Oregon. They should know by 4:00pm today.

Tomorrow, Matt works, and Jose and I will probably complete some errands and shopping. Afterwards, we might grab pizza and a movie with Nate Stevens, and his younger brother, Adam. Nate and Matt are both sophomores, and Jose and Adam are both in 7th grade. If they cannot join us, then my sons and I will probably continue with the plans.

Sunday after church I will drive down to Cincinnati for Phil’s concert and the dinner afterwards – in my new black suit with red tie and matching cuff links.

I hope it will be a fun-filled weekend.

Today was the first day that I actually felt like driving after Saturday evening’s attempt to recreate Dorothy Hamill’s awe inspiring performance from the 1976 Olympics right on my front steps. I seriously doubt Ms. Hamill attempted a double loop-triple back flip like I did – and with as much success. I did not wear sequins, but damned if I don’t have a short hair cut with a slight bounce!

I first ventured to Meijer to get a light fixture for the boys’ game area in the basement. In the parking lot a car, cutting across the lanes, nearly bashed into the side of my car. Still, I hopped out of the car with a smile, and strolled through the brisk air, smiling.

I use as much caution in supermarket or store aisles as I do in parking lots. Today was no different as I strolled through the newly remodeled and restructured Meijer at the corner of Stroop and Wilmington. I paused at the corner near electronics and then proceeded into the main aisle. A stocky guy, with a long beard and wearing a ball cap whirred around the corner, causing me to jump back. As he passed quickly by – much faster than I could walk – he said, “You people don’t care about handicaps.” I don’t care for rude people. Before I could react, a second wheel chair nearly clipped me as it rounded the corner at top 1924 Indy 500 speed. He, too, had something to say about me being in the way.

Some of the aisles are narrower in Meijers due to the restructuring and it is more difficult to maneuver shopping carts. With the exception of Aldi’s, I normally take two boys with me so I can avoid using a cart – we fill up with what we can carry so unnecessary purchases are hopefully avoided. Today I had a cart for the light fixture. One gentleman came up from behind me at top shopping cart speed and was annoyed that I could not, or would not, maintain his speed – and I was NOT sauntering along. I was moving at DLJH speed which is not slow by any means. I pulled into an aisle to let him pass. I thought I heard him say, “Jeesh…” but then I don’t know if the comment came from me due to the stench of body odor and three week old smoke that reeked from his navy blue Carhart’s as he passed me, leaving me gasping for air.

After gathering my items I hurried through the store to the check-out lane. I unloaded my items onto the conveyer belt (those black belts have fascinated me since childhood!) behind a disgruntled elderly lady who was fussing over the discrepancy between a listed price and the cash register’s. The associate got on the telephone, which I did not mind, as I was in no hurry. My items were unloaded and I moved the shopping cart around to the other empty carts. Another lady stepped into the line and I came around from the front since I could not get past her cart.

“You cut in line,” came this icy voice.

I turned to explain that I had simply taken my cart to the empty cart corral.

“You could have done it after your purchase.”

“Yes, I could have, but I decided to use my time wisely while waiting on this price check.”

With that, the elderly lady disputing the register’s price turned and said, “Well, I am sorry I have inconvenienced you, young man.”

Dear God!

“I wasn’t complaining at all, Mam. And thank you for calling me a ‘young man.'”

She snuffed, “I was being sarcastic since you were rude enough to tell everyone I am holding up the line.”

For once, my brain shut off all function to my mouth and I only thought, “You were not being sarcastic, you were being a complete bitch!”

The lady behind me chimed in, telling the couple who had joined our line how rude I had been to her and the lady in front of me. I turned to look at the sympathetic couple who seemed to sense she was a “real piece of work.” Finally, the rascally Price-O-Dame in front of me departed and the cashier smiled, apologetically.

“It is Bethany Village day. Their bus brings residents over here to shop and some days are worse than others.”

I merely nodded, fearful of opening my mouth with Ice-O-Dame hovering behind me.

In the parking lot, the people waiting at the cross walks in their car were so impatient – which is something I have never understood. In inclement weather, why do some people in cars become impatient with those who are actually out in the weather? They are warm and comfortable in their car!

As I crossed the little road leading to McDonald’s on Stroop Road, a car swerved out in front of me, forcing me to slam on the brakes. I honked and he flipped me off. And to top that off, he did not use a turn signal. On Stroop, I was behind him in the right lane and he was going 20 mph without accelerating. I passed his vehicle and did not even glance his way. Suddenly he was keeping up with me, flipping me off. I smiled and he flipped me off more. I sped up and he kept up with me. I noticed he was coming up on a car in his lane, and there was a car coming up behind me. So, I took that opportunity to raise my hand and dangle my wrist in a “gay” gesture. Wow! Instead of seeing road-rage surface, I saw his gene pool boil over!

In CVS, I hurried to get Matthew’s medicines. Matthew and I took in the order on Monday and they asked if we would mind retrieving them the following day. Since Matt still had enough meds for a few days it was not a problem. That Wednesday morning I waited behind an elderly gentleman who was annoyed that his prescription was not ready after ten minutes. The Pakistani pharmacist – who does not have full command of the English language – was trying to placate the gentleman. The pharmacist returned to his work and the elderly gentleman turned to me, desiring a sympathetic ear.

“I came in and they said it would be ten minutes. It has been twelve.”

I chuckled and said, “I brought mine in Monday afternoon and it is finally ready on Wednesday morning.”

With that, the elderly gentleman leaned across the counter and shouted, “This man has been waiting since Monday for his prescription!”

The dark eyes of the pharmacist shot up at me with a glare. “Dear God,” I thought. “Now Paschal is going to be even more short with me.” I could not even muster an understanding facial expression to soothe the moment as the elderly gentleman proceeded to complain. By this time I wanted to shove Grumps’ neck into the pressure cup on the blood pressure machine, and hit the reset button each time the mechanical voice said, “Test completed.”

Back at home, I quickly grabbed my items from the car and darted into the house at stealth speed.

The weekend is over…

Friday I finished teaching at 6:15pm and hurried to ACTION Adoption to teach a class to prospective adoptive parents. Afterwards, I chatted with some former students, Ted and Annie, who will be going to committee on Thursday with the state of Oregon for three young children.

Saturday, I prepared lunch in the crock, and then began preparations for Sunday’s breakfast, talking to Jeff Carter on the phone as I played Donna Reed in the kitchen. The boys and I completed some errands and then welcomed Mother, Dena and the boys for the weekend. I had prepared chicken burrito casserole for lunch so we sat down to lunch right after they arrived. Mother pinned up my new suit pants so I could have them hemmed, and then I trotted over to Sheila Magnuson’s to open her chimney flugh.

We walked over to the high school for the dinner & concert, only to find out, an hour before the concert that they had run out of spaghetti. We all hurried back to my house (next door to the high school) to get the cars and drive to Subways. We left Subways to find our cars all iced up and the streets very slick. I let Mother out at the front door and then hurried to park at the church across the street.

The concert was good and certain moments of the show choir portion were quite entertaining. Will O’Hanlon’s portrayal of Elvis, and Daniel’s rappin’ Rudolph were fantastic! Following the concert we moved to the commons where they served desert.

We left the high school around 9:40pm to a world of ice. As Jose and I crossed the street in front of the high school I could not even get up the wheelchair incline. The parking lot was full of cheerful scrapers and we all laughed as we scraped windows with a 1/4 inch of ice. Finally, I hurried over to the end of the east unit to pick up Mother and Matt while Dena waited for her windows to defrost.

Back in our driveway I let Mother out and pulled up further so Dena would have room. Matt assisted Mother and as I stepped off the porch to help in the assist, my feet flew out from under me and I landed full force on the steps, falling right on my wrist, side (kidney) and hip. I sat there for several minutes unable to move and refusing Mother’s suggestion of calling an ambulance. Finally, I was able to move and entered the house. I could move, but was pretty stiff.

I sent an Email to my friend, Phil, to let him know that despite the weather and my fall, I still intended on coming to Cincy the following afternoon. The telephone immediately rang as instant messages from Phil began popping up on the computer screen – Phil pointed out that the concert series was not this weekend but next weekend. Whew!

Sunday morning I woke with no bruises! Very sore, but no bruises. After church, we ate Chinese and the family returned to Indiana. I took a nap, and then Jose and I went to a movie while Matt remained home to work on some Christmas gifts.

Today, Monday, I am achy, but mobile!

Monday morning, my friend, Phil Clary, a choral director in Cincinnati invited me to attend a performance of a professional ensemble to which he belongs for this coming weekend. Since Matt has his high school choral concert on Saturday (with family coming in), I could only attend Sunday’s afternoon concert. Phil indicated that following that particular concert, would I be available to attend a formal dinner party as his guest. Generally, I wear a tux to most formal affairs or when conducting or performing – but Phil indicated this was only a suit and tie affair.

I have not worn a suit in ages. I put out an Email of desperation to friends in the area who are expert shoppers. I was directed to Value City where friends were purchasing suits for $69. Knowing these folks, who always look nice, I had faith I would find success. And boy, did I!

I immediately found the suit – a black suit with four buttons. After a quick call to Amanda Berlon regarding “power ties,” Matt, Jose and I began the next leg of the search – shirt and tie. Jose immediately found a scarlet tie with small blue and black rectangles. The cuff links were covered in the same material as the tie. Very sharp. Then, we located a Pierre Cardin shirt which required cuff links.

What a smart looking ensemble… and this has to be the most dull blog I have ever written!

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December 2005
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