Overheard in the Halls: Episode 29

*cue “Morning” from Peer Gynt Suite*

A teacher strolls down a long hallway, savoring the relative quiet. She raises her can of soda pop to her lips . . .

Voice from Around the Corner: AaaaaiaiiiiEEEEEEEEEEE!

Me: [races down the hall, cuts the corner and skids to a stop]

Jolted Junior: Spider! Spiderspiderspider Biiiiiiiig spider!

Me: [studies wolf spider heading for the outside door] You are quite correct. I’ll get the door for him.

The spider went in peace under his own power. Headed for the van used by the teaching sisters to commute to Day Job.

* *******

A confused soul wanders into my classroom during chapel hours.

Me: Can I help you?

Confused Soul: Um, I think this is my first period class?

Me: You are?

C.S.: Mumbles name

Me: No, you are in Brother Vector’s math class next door during first period. This is chapel period. Which chapel are you in?

C.S: Um, Protestant Two? I think? I left my schedule at home?

Me: Let’s go check with Mrs. Hutchinson.

C.S. [As we go up the hall to Mrs. Hutchinson’s room]: This is kinda my second first day. I’ve been sick.

Me: That’s quite alright. Some days are like this.

Indeed, she was in Protestant Two, and Mrs. Hutchinson took over.


I was being invisible behind the desk, covering a study hall while Sister Scholastica was on retreat.

Frazzled Freshman [sprawled in chair at study carrel] Uuuuugh, I’m doooomed.

Sober Senior [looking up from calculus book]: It’s only the second week of school. No one is doomed until the fourth week.

Secular Senior: Unless you are among the reprobate, not the elect. But that’s only if you’re Protestant. The rest of us are safe. [returns to history book]

Frazzled Fresh: I skimmed the stuff for English and I still busted the quiz.

Sober: There’s your problem.

Frazzled: But that’s what you do, right? Find something on the ‘net, answer the questions, get an A. That’s what we did at my other school.

Sober: You went on the net? For English? How do you think you can learn it without actually reading the story?

Frazzled: Magic?

Sophomore Standing at the Printer: Just read it. One short story won’t kill you.

Secular Senior [muttering from behind history book]: No, but Sr. Mary Conjugation will.

I stayed where I was, invisible, and trying hard not to laugh.


Sister Scholastica (aka The Dean) returned from her retreat refreshed and out of the loop. We crossed paths in the secondary workroom.

Me: Good morning, Sister.

Sr. Scholastica: Good morning, Miss Red. [stirs coffee] How have things been?

Me: Mostly quiet.

Sr. Scholastica: Mostly quiet?

Me [counts off on fingers of hand not holding tea mug]: First hairy spider of the season, two misplaced student laptops, major communication lapse between here and the usual place so Señora Piñata is rather irked, and the junior students have been counseled about how to return to class when they come back from off-campus chapel.

Sr. Scholastica [sips coffee]: Generally normal, in other words.

Me: Yes, ma’am.

You might be a choir nerd if:

you have strong preferences about editions of certain compositions.

you once threatened someone with bodily dismemberment if they dared touch your full-score Schirmer edition of The Messiah.

someone on the second row asks, “Maestro; ecclesiastical, American, or German?” and it makes perfect sense.*

you have muttered under your breath, “That’s now how we sang this the last time.” The last time was, um, 2005, and 1985, at least with this particular choir.

you have a favorite requiem mass. And you are not Catholic.

you know the Pater Noster, two Credos, the Sanctus, Kyrie, and several other liturgical prayers . . . and you are not Catholic. Or Christian.

certain keys inspire uncharitable thoughts from your choir. (I sang in a choir that could not sing in tune acapella in E natural. We loved A flat and never lost or gained pitch. Drove the conductor crazy.)

you hear a chord from the accompaniment one half beat before your entrance and can do the entire rest of the composition from memory. (“The Majesty and Glory” by Fettke, and “Sanctus” and “In Paradisum” from the Faure Requiem, among others.)

you chant along with the “Dies Irae” . . . when it is used in movie music or rock compositions.

you have preferred settings of the “Dies Irae,” and “Ubi Caritas et Amor,” among other chants.

you have strong opinions about performance black dress options, or which tuxedo is best for singing in.

*Latin pronunciation. I have done all three, and there are differences. Not as stark as between Latin and modern Italian, but you can hear the differences if you listen carefully.

Smite, Smote, . . . Smitten?

So, frustration reached the point earlier this week that I had to either kill something (on paper) or write about someone who had been asking for it getting a lesson in “why you stop arguing before your hair stands on end and the sky turns black.” I chose option B, since it would go into what I’m supposed to be working on anyway.

Which led me to trying to decide what the passive past tense of “to smite” should be. And I found it, but it has become one of those words that, at least in American English, doesn’t mean that anymore.

“To smite” comes from the same family of verbs as “to write.” Everyone is aware of:

I write, I wrote, I had written. Or “The letter was written with a quill pen.” No one blinks at the construction.


The gods will smite him. Lightning smote the tree. He was smitten by the wrath of Zeus.

To begin with, most of us don’t use “to smite” in everyday speech. It is somewhat archaic, often considered formal, and we’re more likely to use strike or hit to describe the action, unless a deity is involved, or we are being poetic.

When we use “smitten,” it most often refers to a romantic infatuation, or a quasi-romantic infatuation. “He was totally smitten with her.” Sort of like “besotted,” but with a milder, less negative sense. At core, the meaning is the same. One person is struck with an emotion the same way trees are struck by lightning. The modern sense is restricted to love, infatuation, puppy-love, and the like. “She was smitten by his charms” calls to mind a young woman sighing dreamily as an attractive young man walks past her table at the cafe, completely unaware that she’s staring at him. Or more humorously, a young man staring at a bar-maid, and the rest of his table knows darn well that he doesn’t have a prayer of getting her phone number.

So back to the original problem. I can’t end the scene with one character staring at a pile of ash and declaring in awe filled tones, “He was smitten by the gods!” My readers are going to fall out of their chairs (or off their couches) laughing, because the modern meaning collides with the scene in the book.

Oh, the trials and tribulations of being a writer!

Are Pizzas Growing, or is it Just Me?

At brunch a few days ago, Several people got carry-out boxes for their desserts. I powered through and finished mine. This led to some discussions about “I could have eaten this entire sweet roll. A few years ago.”

I noted that pizzas are getting larger. Back in the day *coughcough* years ago, half of a large, two-topping, thin crust pizza was supper, and the rest was supper the next day. Now, two slices – maybe three if they are small – is supper and the rest of the pizza is dinner and supper.

It absolutely cannot be that I am growing older, and my capacity for consumption of high protein, high fat foods is decreasing. No. The only logical explanation is that pizzas are now larger for any given surface area or volume than they were mumblemumble years ago.

Yeah, that’s it.

Season of the Squash

One of my coworkers set a large plastic bag on the table with a firm thump. “Would you like some squash?”

“I brought more squash!” a choir member announces as he placed the cardboard box of gourds, squash, and zucchini on the floor beside the piano.

DadRed glanced out at bedtime to see if the UPS truck had been by (they tend to leave the box and run). He opened the front door and brought in a plastic grocery bag full of squash and zucchini. And two onions.

Apparently, this cool, wet summer has been as good for squash and their cousins as it has been bad for tomatoes. The lack of heat and direct sunlight really set the tomatoes back, and they just haven’t done a lot. Too much smoke and too many overcast days don’t help tomatoes or cotton. However, the weekly rain and temperatures in the 80s-low 90s seem to have encouraged other things to go forth and multiply. Not just exponentially, no, we’re talking logarithmic increases in produce here. Anyone who goes and buys squash from the grocery store right now? They must have really cheezed off their neighbors.

So it’s time to start with squash-n-onions and go from there.

1 or 2 summer squash (two if they are small) cut into 1/2″ thick rounds, or thinner.

1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped or sliced (your preference)

olive oil (I like garlic or basil flavored)

Spices to taste (basil, garlic, marjoram, thyme . . . Rosemary doesn’t do much for me in this context, but you might give it a try)

  1. Drain the squash slightly by letting it “rest” on paper towels.
  2. Heat the oil to a slight shimmer.
  3. Add onion and cook until translucent.
  4. Add squash and spices.
  5. Sautee uncovered over medium heat until the squash is tender.

That’s it. Fast, fairly easy, and it takes about 30 minutes from start to finish. You don’t have to drain the squash, but I prefer a firmer vegetable. Tossing it straight into the pan tends to make for softer veggies, as does turning the heat down to low and covering the pan.

Two Countries, Divided by a Common Notation System

Two things are generally true about choirs as compared to orchestras. Orchestras don’t breathe, and choirs don’t count. Specifically, it is rare for the entire orchestra to have a lift or hesitation for a catch breath. The brass and woodwinds might, or they might just take turns grabbing oxygen. Choirs usually have musical cues written into their scores, or a piano reduction for practice, and so don’t count constantly the way most instrumentalists do. It is very unusual to see the markings for, oh, a 12 measure rest, then a time-signature change, a three measure rest, and then choir notes.

That is, unless an orchestral composer writes something with a choir in it . . .

I was reminded of that recently, when grousing about crazy key signatures with some symphony members. The composition we had performed had, at one point eight sharps. [Waits for music people to finish face-palming]. There is no such thing as a key with eight sharps, as normally written. If you need something that odd, you toss in a few accidentals (notes that are raised or lowered a half-step temporarily) or just use the key that matches the sound you want. This led to grumbling about “composers who are showing off,” and use way too many keys in their music. Key changes are not, in themselves, bad. Changing which notes are sharp or flat, oh, say, nine times in a six page church anthem for choir? Not a way to win friends from either the choir or the organist.

So . . . Some years back, the choir I sang with got the choir parts for a joint forces exercise, er, choir with orchestra, composition. The composer was not used to writing for choirs, and thus did as she would do with instrumental parts and just put in a bunch of resting time before the choral entrance. And a few key and time changes, but nothing too wild. However, there were no hints for the choir (or accompanist) as to when we came in or what our cues were.

Predictable chaos ensued the first time we rehearsed it with orchestra. After perhaps ten measures of no choir, the conductor (who is primarily a choral conductor) realized that four parts were missing and stopped the orchestra. “Come in this time,” came the order. Fifty pair of eyes glowered down from the risers, because we had neither cue nor clue. “I’m starting seven before the choral entrance.”

Right. The handful of us who had some orchestral experience started counting under our breathes. One of the others held up a hand behind the music folder and gave the folks behind a count down. Four measures. Three measures. Two measures. [Rather like the start of a Tour de France time-trial, actually]. Launch.

After the third run-through, I sorted out some cues and where they were in relation to the choral entry, and marked that on my music. It helped. But I still had to spend — a while — counting like mad.

I’m not sure some of the alti ever forgave the composer for that. We sopranos had our own beefs. (“We’re not violas – that’s LOW.”)

Please Stop Giggling, Choir.

The lector began reciting the opening invocation. Half the choir started vibrating, trying not to chuckle, or sing.

“How lovely is Thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts! My soul longs, even faints, for the courts of the Lord. My soul and my body cry out for the living G-d.”

Now, two-thirds of the choir are struggling mightily not to hum the melody we associate with this text. (Psalm 84). Or recite the next verse in German.

One of the basses, who plays in the university orchestra, is discreetly mimicking the cello line as his compadres labor not to start laughing.

Psalm Eighty-four is not intrinsically amusing. What’s going on?

Brahms. Too many of us have sung Brahms’ German Requiem too often not to hear the most famous movement in our minds’ ears.

At Last! The End is Nigh

Of the academic year, that is.

The Dean is making the rounds to determine that all the grades are in. Properly. On time.

“Yes, this includes you, Sr. Mary Conjugation.”

The faculty are willing, at least after 0830 local time.

“Yes Sister Scholastica, as soon as the rest of the coffee gets through our systems!”

Father Martial and the Dean have their hands full keeping everyone on track . . .

“No, you must stay in the classrooms until the bell sounds, even if you are done with your exam!”

Occasionally the faculty also need a gentle reminder.

“You, too, need to clean out your desks and snack drawers. And the workroom refridgerator. Even St. Jude couldn’t assist with what was found last May.”

And of course IT has to remind everyone:

“Back up over here, then do this and this, don’t forget to check this fourth drop-down menu, chase your tail, then conclude, then log out, and then make sure all the peripherals are shut down, and THEN power everything down for the summer. See? Easy.”

The last student departs, the last grades are entered, closets cleaned, ‘fridge emptied. . . and the Exodus is reenacted:

We’re free! We’re Free! (At least until August).

Bison – 1 Alma – Running

I tend to take warnings about large animals seriously. After all, at the very least they have the advantage of speed and momentum, often augmented by hooves and horns or antlers. So when I was reading a guide book about visiting a geology/nature/wildlife park in south-central Kansas, the bit about “if free-roaming bison approach, do not linger but return to your vehicle” gave me a moment’s pause. Bison can sprint at up to 50 miles an hour. I can’t. Maybe hiking was contraindicated.

Anyway, off I went to visit the area. One of my goals was teh Big Basin Prairie Reserve, which was reportedly “off the beaten path” and had nice geology as well as some hiking. And bison. The basin itself is a large sinkhole, eroded into a depression that collects water, with St. Jacob’s Well in the deepest part of the basin (a sinkhole-in-a-sinkhole). The terrain is a nice change from the miles and miles of miles that seem to fill most of Kansas, and the weather was late-spring temperate, so in the 60s with a little breeze. A good day to stretch one’s legs and walk around, looking at native grasses and so on.

I parked at the top of a hill. I had the place to myself, with only a contrail high overhead to show that other people existed. That and the occasional sign as I drove into the preserve. The grasses had started to green up as the days grew longer and the spring rains became summer rains. I got out of my car, stretched, looked around, and started to walk.

And stopped. A dozen or so bison stood below me on the slope. They saw me, and started coming my way. I retreated and considered walking the other direction. The large, dark brown, shaggy, large, curious, large mammals came closer. And closer. It was the photo of a lifetime, if I’d had a camera. Or less sense.

I got back into my car and waited. The buffalo loitered, completely uninterested in allowing me to go hiking through their living room. After ten minutes I got the hint and left for less lively environs.

Did I mention that North American bison are really large when they get close to you? Not “you need to brush your teeth more often” close, but much closer than I was happy with. I think they were related to the yearling buffalo that got ahead of me on the road west from Black Mesa, CO, and refused to get out of the way. We ambled along at two miles an hour for what seemed like miles before we reached a cattle guard and he gave up and got out of the way. The rear end of a yearling buffalo is not scenic, if you’ve ever wondered.


The area looked like this, minus the trees. I hadn’t gotten that far into the basin. Used under Creative Commons Fair Use. From http://www.waymarkings.com

The Rain it Falls Upon the Just

And on the unjust fella./ But mostly on the just, because/ The unjust steals the just’s umbrella!

It’s raining. At last. All at once.

The climate pattern for this region has two moisture peaks. One in the spring with thunderstorms and the usual loud spring weather. Then summer dries out, more or less, then in September and October get wet again. Snow tends to be light and relatively dry compared to parts east and west. We sometimes get spill-over from New Mexico’s summer monsoon, but that depends on how close to the mountains you are. And how much moisture we have.

It takes rain to get rain. If the ground is moist, evaporation happens, and fuels instability, which fuels rain storms. Dry soil bakes and gets drier, removing humidity from the air. In that case, sometimes it requires a major water dump, like a hurricane that makes it this far north, or a low pressure system that sucks weeks of water out of the Gulf of Mexico and wrings it out up here. This time, we got the low pressure option. With a side-order of severe thunderstorms.

The ranchers are delighted, those who have not had roads, fences, and other things wash away. The farmers are a bit more mixed. The wheat people are crossing their fingers, because we’re getting close to harvest. Really close. They want gentle rain, no hail, and then drying out for a few weeks. The cotton farmers, those with seed in the ground, want rain and higher temperatures. The folks who have not planted yet want warmer temps and a dry spell so they can plant, then warm, gentle rains. Those of us dealing with leaking foundations, flooded basements (all two of them in town), washed-out streets, and other excitement want rain, but not all at once.

I’m reminded of an interview I heard a decade and more ago with a wheat farmer after his area got ten inches of rain (or more) in an hour. “How’s your wheat, sir?” the gal inquired.

“It looks pretty good. I do have to go to [next state south] to visit it, though.”

Yep, pretty much.