Let the band play on

For nearly half my life – for the vast majority of my adult life – I have been involved with the Nashville Symphony’s annual concert in Shelbyville. I covered the first two or three concerts, which were sponsored by Berol Corp., but then when First American Bank took over as sponsor, in maybe 1991 or 1992, the late Scott McDonald formed a steering committee and asked me to join it. I’ve been on that committee ever since, and the past few years I’ve been co-chair alongside with the committee’s long-time chair, Dawn Holley.

Last year, for the first time, the concert didn’t have a primary sponsor, and I was the one who stood up in front of everyone, welcomed them, and introduced Vinay Parameswaran, the symphony’s associate conductor, making his first appearance in Shelbyville. I’m told he was wonderful.

I say “I’m told” because, right after giving those words of welcome, I had to leave Calsonic Arena. It was Election Night, and I had to be at the county courthouse to collect election results as they came in. I’d spent months working with Dawn and others on the concert, and then I had to miss it. I sprinted up the center aisle, through the waiting crowd, and out the door of the arena before the first note of music was played.

You want to know the worst part of that?

For about six months, I thought I had missed the very last such concert. Without going into details, we thought that the pieces weren’t going to come together for a concert this year. No one had said so officially, but Dawn and I had taken it as a foregone conclusion, and I’d told a few friends not to expect there to be a symphony concert in Shelbyville in 2015.

But now, it looks like we’ve gotten a reprieve. We found out a few weeks ago that the concert has been scheduled, and we had a teleconference today to do some planning for it. The concert will be Tuesday, May 5.

There are still some details that need to be worked out, and we still really need a primary sponsor if there’s going to be any long-term future for the concert. But I can’t tell you how happy I am that I didn’t miss the very last one.

the spice of life

If you love to cook at all, you really need to go to the Penzey’s web site and order something – or, at least, sign up for their mailing list. The recipes in their catalogs are worth signing up for.

Penzey’s is a Wisconsin-based mail order company which sells herbs and spices. They’ve now added some brick-and-mortar locations as well, but the closest one to me is in the Memphis area, so for me they’re still a mail-order house.

They have a variety of different products:

  • Individual spices: These range from the ordinary to the exotic, and are all of high quality. Ever seen a chef on the Food Network scrape out a vanilla bean, but you can’t find whole vanilla beans in your local supermarket? Penzey’s has you covered. Need some exotic spice for Indian or Thai cooking? Ditto.
  • Seasoning blends: They have a number of their own proprietary seasoning blends, including five or six different types of chili powder, salt-free blends, and on and on.
  • Gift boxes: This was how I first learned about Penzey’s; one of my sisters-in-law gave me a gift box. They have them in every price range, from stocking stuffers to big expensive housewarming or wedding gifts that let the happy couple set up shop with all new, fresh spices. Some of the gift boxes are packed in actual, usable bay leaves and whole nutmeg nuts. (Whole nutmeg, by the way, is the way to go. Grate it when you need it, and the taste is much, much better than the pre-ground stuff.)
  • Pepper mills: I’d love to have one of their pepper mills – I usually buy cheap ones from Walmart and then just replace them when they break or wear out. Of course, they have a variety of different peppercorns to go in the mills. They also sell matching salt shakers, with slightly larger holes than the normal shaker to accommodate coarse salt.

Seriously, this is a good company that makes good products. And, as I said, they have great recipes in their catalog, so it’s worth signing up for the mailing list (or just go ahead and order something, which I assume will put you on the list as well).

things snl ought to bring back

NOTE: I will be liveblogging the “Saturday Night Live” 40th anniversary prime time special at this website Sunday night.

I have really enjoyed VH1 Classic’s “SNL Rewind,” a rerun of the vast majority of “Saturday Night Live” in reverse chronological order (except for a few themed programming blocks) over the past week or two, in preparation for the show’s 40th anniversary special on Sunday night.

One thing I’ve noticed (and I didn’t necessarily see all of these episodes during “SNL Rewind” – in some cases, I was just reminded of them) is that at certain points in the show’s history, they’ve been willing to monkey around with the format a little bit. Some of these variations were things I wish they’d revive – at least every now and then:

Onscreen graphics: I loved the little bumpers they ran during the original years of the show when going to commercial (“COMING UP: Is Roy Rogers Trigger-Happy?”), especially the ones where they’d zoom in on some unsuspecting audience member and put something on screen like “Won’t put out until the third date.”

Show-long running gags: As much as people malign the Dick Ebersol years, when Lorne Michaels wasn’t running the show, one thing they did well during that time was have fun with the format of the show itself. This included things like the extended coverage of Buckwheat being shot or the telephone poll over whether or not to boil and eat Larry The Lobster. They had an episode with multiple hosts. There was even a little of this during the show’s original run – such as the “anyone can host” contest.

The ill-fated first season of Lorne’s return – the one with Randy Quaid, Robert Downey Jr. and Joan Cusack – included an episode like this, based around the conceit that SNL had brought in Francis Ford Coppola to direct.

Standup or specialty performers: Some older SNL episodes had not only a musical guest but a comedy guest. Andy Kaufman, Joel Hodgson and even Harry Anderson appeared on SNL this way. I don’t suggest that they get a different run-of-the-mill standup comedian every week, but the occasional unique comedy talent would be better than another iteration of “What’s Up With That?” or whatever running sketch they’re running into the ground this week.

Trying new things in general: The Ebersol years had – and I had forgotten this – occasional segments similar to Jay Leno’s or Jimmy Kimmel’s man-on-the-street segments. I’m actually not advising that they do this specifically, but an occasional piece of unscripted comedy, taking advantage of SNL’s New York City location, might not be a bad thing.

There’s a lot of hand-wringing in some quarters that says the show as it is currently composed is doomed – it’s no longer appointment television because everyone knows that if something really funny happens, you can simply go online and watch the clip of that individual sketch the next day. There’s been some talk that whenever Lorne decides to retire, the show will go with him. But I think they should at least see if new hands could bring a fresh approach, and a willingness to play around with the format. If that happens, people might feel the need to watch the show live again.

and so it goes

Julia Louis-Dreyfus was playing Linda Ellerbee just now on early-80s SNL. I had not thought of Linda Ellerbee in ages.

I remember in the 70s when SNL ran three Saturdays a month and the irreverent and ahead-of-its-time NBC News show “Weekend” ran the fourth Saturday, which actually helped alleviate SNL rerun burnout. Ellerbee, with her wry, very un-anchor-like humor, anchored it, and then later anchored the critically-acclaimed “NBC News Overnight.”

But what I remember her best on was “Our World” on ABC, a fascinating show produced by the news department which was sort of a weekly mini-documentary focusing on one year, or occasionally a shorter period, from earlier in the century. Ellerbee co-hosted it with Ray Gandolf. Nobody watched it, because it ran against “The Cosby Show” on Thursday nights. It was relatively cheap to produce, and thus was basically ABC throwing up a white flag in that time slot, which they knew they weren’t going to win as long as Cosby was on the air. But the affiliates don’t like it when the network surrenders like that (see “The Jay Leno Show”) and the show was cancelled.

Gandolf usually opened the show (although Ellerbee opens it in the clip below) by saying “For the next hour, think of your TV as a time machine.” Then, Ellerbee got the last word, so that she could use her famous signoff from “Weekend” and “Overnight,” “…and so it goes.”

 

It was well done, while it lasted.

Ellerbee later went on to host a news show for children on Nickelodeon, which I’ve never seen. If Wikipedia is to be believed, it’s still on the air.

A day at the beach

SandwritingThis morning, for my weekly “Raise Your Hand Tennessee” volunteer hour in Regan Aymett‘s class at Learning Way Elementary, we wrote in the sand. Well, the kids wrote in the sand, anyway. Regan had little plastic tubs at my station, with blue sand in the bottom of each, and I read out spelling words that the kids had to draw with their finger in the sand.
The kids loved it — although, as one might expect, there was sand everywhere by the time I’d gone through the activity with three or four different groups. Whenever the kids weren’t writing — for example, some children had finished but others hadn’t — the ones not actually writing were shaking their little tubs or piling up the sand or just rubbing their hands through it.
I was struck by the difference in achievement level among the four groups. Some already knew how to spell “high,” others had to be walked through much-simpler words.
The sand thing was fun, though, for me and the kids.

kickoff!

The past few years, we’ve had our kickoff event for the American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Bedford County in the fall. And it’s been poorly attended. We were going to have one this past fall, but a combination of factors forced us to postpone it until Jan. 31 – but that seems to have been a good thing. The number of RSVPs on the event’s Facebook page is already quite a bit higher than our normal attendance, and I’m sure there are people planning on coming who haven’t bothered to click the button.

But there’s still room for you! Whether or not you’re familiar with Relay, this is a great chance to stop by and have a good time. We will have a hot chocolate bar, and cookies, and kid-friendly games and activities. It will be more of a party than a presentation, although we will, of course, have information available about Relay.

Relay For Life is the American Cancer Society’s grass-roots fundraising program. The focus of that program in each community is an actual overnight event. Ours will be held June 5-6 at Bedford County Agriculture and Education Center. Relay For Life is not a run or a race. The event is held around some sort of oval track (often at a high school stadium, although ours is on a horse show track). Various teams of walkers stay on the track for the duration of the event – in Bedford County’s case, that’s 12 hours, from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday. Each team must have at least one person walking at any given time during the event; that’s what makes it a relay, because team members take turns walking for their team.

The walking is only part of what goes on Relay night. It’s as much a festival as it is a walk. Each team typically operates some sort of concession – food, souvenirs, children’s games or activities or what have you. There are also ceremonies and observances, such as the Survivor Lap which opens the event by honoring cancer survivors, or the Luminaria Ceremony which takes place some time after dark. We encourage the general public, not just team members, to attend.

Teams raise money with their Relay-night concessions, but they also raise money in advance, with group fund-raisers and individual fund-raising by members.

Relay teams can be workplace-based, church-based, neighborhood-based or just a circle of friends. Sometimes, a Relay team is formed in tribute to a cancer patient or in memory of someone we’ve lost to cancer.

If you’re here in Bedford County, go to http://relayforlife.org/bedfordtn for more information. Otherwise, go to http://relayforlife.org and search for the Relay event in your area.

And please think about joining us, 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 31, at Bedford County Agriculture and Education Center.

join me on the mountain

A few years ago, I started writing a post about Mountain T.O.P.’s Adults In Ministry (AIM) program and it turned into a series of posts. Since then, when I’ve encouraged people to go to AIM, I’ve just linked to those posts.

But that series – and I’m still proud of it – was kind of, well, wordy. Once you start me talking, or writing, about AIM, it’s sort of hard to get me to shut up.

So here, just for the sake of doing it, is a shorter version.

Mountain T.O.P. (Tennessee Outreach Project), a ministry which I served for a total of 12 (non-consecutive) years as a board member, celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2015. Mountain T.O.P. was founded by a United Methodist church, and because of that it has some administrative ties to the United Methodist Church, but it’s completely interdenominational in its program, and has drawn volunteers from a variety of different denominational background ever since the first camp in 1975. Mountain T.O.P. is best known for a program that takes church youth groups as volunteers, but I got involved through AIM. It’s a passion for me. I’ve been pretty much every year since 1993 except for a few years in the 2000s when the dates of my foreign mission trips conflicted with the program.

A short-term mission trip is different from the work you do in your local church and community. The two aren’t in competition with one another; each can enhance the other. Jesus told the disciples they would be his witnesses in “Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” It’s good to explore different cultures and different types of need. It’s also good to get away and live in Christian community in a way that differs from what we’re able to do in the workaday world.

AIM operates in Grundy County, on the Cumberland Plateau, which has both unique assets and challenges, including economic struggles that go back for generations.

AIM has both week-long events during the summer and weekend events during the fall, but I’m going to talk about the former because it’s the nearest and dearest to my heart, and because I think the level of community and friendship you find in the week-long event is a different thing from what you can find in a weekend.

There will be three week-long camps this summer. At each of the three camps, each individual visitor has a choice between two different forms of service. One of them is always home repair, and the other one has to do with helping children and youth from the remote mountain communities. Here, in a nutshell, are the programs:

Major Home Repair (all 3 weeks)

Teams of about six people go and do home repair work for a deserving Grundy County family. The projects run the gamut. This program is open to, and commonly includes, men and women of every skill level. Whether you’re a professional contractor or have never picked up a hammer, you will be welcome and needed. The teams are put together on Sunday of a camp week in such a way that each team contains a balance of gender, age and experience level. You may find yourself learning new skills of which you wouldn’t have thought yourself capable.

The home repair projects are ongoing – other volunteers have worked on them before your team, and still other volunteers will take up wherever you left off.

Summer Plus (June 21-27)

This is what first attracted me to AIM, and it’s the program I’ve done most often. Volunteers conduct enrichment workshops for teenagers from the mountain. You can volunteer to teach, and even suggest a subject, or you can just work in a support role. We pick up the teenagers each morning and drop them off each afternoon. Teens take one workshop before lunch and a different workshop after lunch. Past workshops have included cooking, tennis, creative writing, drama, photography, juggling, Pinterest-inspired crafts, self-defense, basic car care, and on and on. If you can teach a few basic skills over an 8-hour period ( ~2 hours a day Monday through Thursday, with a much briefer wrapup session and a presentation for the parents on Friday), it’s fair game for a Summer Plus workshop.

Kaleidoscope (June 7-13)

Similar in format to Summer Plus, but focused on the arts and meant to serve elementary-age special needs children. “Special needs” is broadly defined and can include anything from disabilities to ADHD to a crappy home situation. As with Summer Plus, we need both people willing to teach and people working to support the program. In Kaleidoscope, the kids take the same workshop every morning but they rotate through workshops in the afternoon, so if you were a teacher you would need to develop two different lesson plans – a four-day plan for your primary group in the mornings, and a single-day plan which you would give four different times, to four different groups of kids, in the afternoon.

My ideal summer is to get to go to AIM twice, so that I can do both Summer Plus and Kaleidoscope. I’ve done that several times in the past, although I won’t get to do it that way this year.

Quest (July 5-11)

This is the newest of the four programs, and the only one in which I’ve never participated. Like Summer Plus, this serves teens from the mountain – but it’s focused on adventure activities like rappelling, rafting and a ropes course. Adult volunteers work in a support role. Adults are free to participate alongside the kids but are also free to skip any individual activity that they don’t feel comfortable doing.

Camp community at AIM

AIM events are held at Cumberland Pines, Mountain T.O.P.’s base of operations between Altamont and Coalmont in Grundy County. Adults stay, two to a room, in Bradford Cabin (formerly known as Friends Cabin), which was specifically built for the adult ministry and has amenities like air conditioning.

The camp community has a morning devotion and breakfast before heading out their separate ways – home repair teams to their sites, and the volunteers for that week’s youth program to pick up kids and bring them back to camp.

In the evening, we come back together for dinner, and then have sharing (a time to talk about the day’s experiences) and a brief, colorful and participatory time of worship.

The sense of Christian community that forms through a week in camp has led to some special friendships which I’ve treasured and maintained for years.

To mark the ministry’s 40th anniversary, AIM is shooting for attendance of 40 for each of the three camp weeks. I would dearly love to be able to introduce some friends to this ministry, which has meant so much to me over the past 22 years. If you’re at all interested, please either contact me or go to http://mountain-top.org/adults-in-ministry-aim.

Laissez les bons temps rouler

At Kroger yesterday, I saw andouille. That’s unusual – I have seen a couple of national smoked sausage brands that tried to promote “andouille-style” or “Cajun-style” flavors in the past, but they weren’t true andouille, and you could see that as soon as you sliced into the link. Actual andouille, at least the kind with which I’m familiar, has a grain to it – speckled, with little bits of fat and meat. I’m sure there’s a term for it that I should be using. A cross-section of the “andouille-style” smoked sausage I’d seen in the past looked just like regular smoked sausage – a uniform pink color, with no bits of anything.

ragincajunBut this was labeled as andouille. It was from Georgia, not Louisiana, but I figured it was worth a try.

A few days earlier, I’d bought a slightly-punctured bag of brown rice, which I love, for only 99 cents out of the bargain bin at Kroger. I decided to try to make a jambalaya with brown rice. Traditional? Probably not. But I like brown rice, and it’s much better for me.

I sliced into the andouille and it looked pretty much like the actual Louisiana andouille I’d tried in the past.

This was a seat-of-my-pants preparation. I chopped up onion and bell pepper, sauteed them, then added a little minced garlic, the brown rice, water, some Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning, a little bit of extra cayenne pepper, and some beef base (Better Than Bouillon). Chicken base would probably have been better, but I’m running lower on my jar of chicken base than I am on my jar of beef base, so I decided to use the beef base. I brought it back up to a boil and then I added the andouille, sliced on the bias into little disks. It will take longer to cook than regular jambalaya because the brown rice takes longer to cook than white rice.

It’s simmering now. My friends who are Cajun food experts will probably find fault with some part of another of this, but I’m anxious to see how it turns out.

blue like jazz

I am going to be teaching a new Sunday School class starting later this month at First United Methodist Church. This is being referred to as a young adult class, since I think some of the people who aren’t currently in classes fit into that demographic, but it’s actually open to anyone who wants to attend. We aren’t actively trying to poach anyone from existing classes.

Rev. Lanita Monroe announced from the pulpit a few weeks back that she was looking for people for several different Sunday School classes, including a young adult class. I’d been feeling burned out, for a variety of reasons, with Sunday School, and I’d been missing it more and more often lately. I now think that might have been a God thing. But we’ll see.

I’m re-reading Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality,” which I’d used with a previous, now-defunct class and which I’ve chosen to start out this new  class. It’s one of my favorite books, and one I hope will lend itself to some good discussion. But that will depend on who we actually have in the class.

We’ll also need to find someone I can rely on to take over the class on occasion, since I’ll still get called on as a lay speaker from time to time.

“Blue Like Jazz” isn’t like most other Christian books you’ve read before. (It has a cuss word!) It’s not really a narrative, even though it was turned into a movie (more about that in a second). But there are some sort of storylines to it, involving some time Miller, who was already a college graduate, spent auditing classes at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, which is considered one of the most-secular, least religion-friendly campuses in the nation. But it’s not really a story of Don versus The Atheists; it’s more a story of Don versus Himself, as he struggles to find his own faith, somewhere between the church he was raised in and the secularism that surrounds him. It’s also the story of Don finding a community of friends who hold each other accountable.

I still remember how I came to read the book. Christianity Today excerpted a chapter from it, in which Don and his circle of Christian friends try to decide what to do about Reed College’s Ren Fayre, an annual festival famous for its debauchery. They ended up building a confession booth – but festival-goers who wandered into the booth were shocked when it was Don and his friends doing the confessing. You really have to read the full story.

This Sunday, I’m going to take the chance to go hear my father preach at Mt. Lebanon UMC before the new class starts.

Oh, about that movie: I haven’t seen it yet. I started watching it one night, while I had Netflix, but I got interrupted and never went back. This is ironic for two reasons. As I said, the book is one of my favorites. And the director of the movie was Steve Taylor. Remember Steve Taylor? The musician I was so thrilled to see performing live in November?

As I said, the movie puts a narrative to a book that doesn’t really have one. It also fictionalizes the story somewhat. In real life, Don Miller was a college graduate by the time he started hanging around Reed College. But the movie version of Don is a fresh-faced college student escaping from a fundamentalist upbringing.

Maybe if the class gels, and people enjoy the book, we can have a party and watch the movie together.