Thursday, December 27, 2007

Post-Boxing Day Report

My personal pendulum has been swinging wildly between manic and exhausted for the past few days. Sisterknits and I did last minute shopping on Sunday afternoon and some wrapping and pre-preparation of food items. Christmas Eve is our big family celebration since my marriage to a Dane 35 years ago. So that day is always pretty hectic. I was not expecting a large group for Christmas Eve dinner (roast pork with apples and prunes, gravy, mashed potatoes, green jello salad with pineapple and cottage cheese, peas and carrots, rolls, sparkling grape juice) and then mid-afternoon it got smaller. Brother #2 was to have joined OHP, Sisterknits and his twin sister for dinner, but sadly, he found his landlady dead on her sofa about 1 pm. She was of the age where this was not a tremendous surprise, but of course an unattended death has to be investigated. However, the bigger problem for him immediately was that she was a dogsitter by trade, with a clientele that has included the rich and famous who summer or live in Maine, and there were 6 dogs (besides his dog and her dog) in residence that he is now caring for until he can track down their owners.

So, we had probably the fewest people at our Christmas Eve table since 1973 when a snowstorm prevented us from joining the family in Minneapolis. Then we went to church -- we only missed the first two of the handbell choir's selections, but the church was already full enough that we had to sit in a very odd location -- I can't really even describe it but getting there was a trip! Beautiful music as usual and a good sermon on the Incarnation, but I still miss the experience of going to church and being surrounded by people I know. I recognized one or two of the ushers but no one else in our vicinity.

We returned to prepare for the arrival of the rest of the family (they are vegetarians so we don't inflict our roast pork on them). This year we did something different -- we saved our ris a l'amande until they arrived so the suspense over who got the nut would be greater. I had made the "old school" version (minus gelatin -- see earlier post for recipes) so I wouldn't have to search for veg. gelatin, and it was good though different. Brother #1 got the nut, and a pen in the shape of a moose was the prize. Then we danced around the tree and sang carols and "Nu har vi Jul igen" and then opened presents. Cookies made by my niece, Danish kringle from Racine, WI provided by Temple Truck Woman, and apricot balls were consumed. I think a good time was had by all.

In the morning there were stockings. A sad accident befell my stocking, a beautiful pale green cable-knit one that Cordeliaknits made for me last year. (It is not a permanent injury.) Santa #1, the less-experienced Santa, had put a jar of jelly in the toe, before Santa #2 (yours truly) had a chance to put the tangerine in. When Santa #2 began her work, nearly all the stockings overbalanced and crashed to the hearth along with their (iron) stocking holders. No problem except for mine. I didn't notice at first and hung it on the flue knob, putting the others' stockings on chairs. While I was waiting for Sisterknits to get up, I noticed Rusty licking the hearth tiles. Uh-oh! Sisterknits and OHP cleaned up the mess and we expect the stocking to make a full recovery. After stockings we opened the rest of our gifts. The original plan had involved aebleskiver and the construction of a buche de noel for SK's birthday. But she went back to sleep and awoke too late for all that! We heated leftovers and had supper, and then two of her friends came up from Portland and we played 25 Words or Less. We made the Buche de Noel yesterday, and we'll have aebleskiver today. When one is entertaining a 20-something who has two jobs and a full-time college schedule, one needs to factor in time for extra sleep.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Friday Five: It's Almost Christmas!

This week RevHRod at RevGalBlogPals says:

I have debated with myself for weeks about today's Friday Five.
  • Self 1: It should be deep and theological.
  • Self 2: But it's almost Christmas, it should be fun and warm and sweet.
  • Self 1: But your last Friday Five was sort of silly. You should show your more serious side.
  • Self 2: You worry WAY too much!
So after consulting with my fourteen year old daughter, we're going playful, pals o' mine! I love stories, so I hope you'll tell some about your favorite Christmas memories.

  1. What was one of your favorite childhood gifts that you gave: I've been thinking about this lately, and I can't come up with a "favorite." But there is a gift I remember just because it's not something that any of my children would ever have given to a parent, and shows how times have changed. In fifth grade, I think it was, we had a visiting art teacher once a week, and she was teaching us a little bit about pottery. We got to make Christmas gifts for our parents. I made for mine an ashtray. It was quite misshapen and to make it even lovelier, I glazed it in bubble-gum pink. An Ashtray! It was a useful gift for my smoking parents. By the time our children got to elementary school, they would scold OHP during any of his relapses into smoking (he finally quit for the third and last time about 20 years ago) and they would never, never have given him an ashtray.
  2. What is one of your favorite Christmas recipes? Bonus points if you share the recipe with us. I like the ris a l'amande that we have for dessert on Christmas Eve. There is a nut hidden in it and whoever finds it gets an extra present. Sorry the recipe is so long, but you did ask, and here are two ways to do it: Ris A L’Amande – Two Methods, traditional and easy

    The traditional Risengrød (Christmas Rice Porridge) was served before the remainder of the Christmas Eve meal, to fill people up before the expensive food was served! As an added incentive to eat a lot of it, an almond was hidden in the porridge, with a prize for the person who found it. (When you find the almond in your portion, you must keep it hidden in your mouth as long as possible and then reveal it at the last minute!)
    With increasing affluence, Ris A L’Amande has become the common dessert for Christmas in Denmark. But the proper way to make it involves making Risengrød first.

    Risengrød – Christmas Rice Porridge, from Grethe Petersen, Danish-American Fellowship Cookbook, Minneapolis 1997

    1 cup medium-grain rice (NO long grain!)
    ½ tsp. Salt
    3-4 cups milk
    ½ cup heavy cream

    Butter a heavy kettle (1/2 gallon size). Bring milk to a boil, stirring often (and watching carefully!) Add rice and cover. Cook at low heat for 40 minutes. Stir often. If it is getting too stiff, add more milk. Add cream and salt. (To serve immediately: serve hot with a lump of butter in the middle and cinnamon sugar to season.)

    Ris A L’Amande (from same source)

    1 cup Christmas rice porridge (Risengrød as above)
    1 cup whipping cream, stiffly whipped with the vanilla and sugar
    ¼ cup chopped blanched almonds (optional; or use 1 tsp. Almond extract)
    ½ tsp. Sugar
    1 tsp. Vanilla extract
    One whole almond, blanched (if you can’t find whole blanched almonds, soak a whole almond in boiling water for a few minutes until the skin slips off easily)

    Mix gently (with a wooden spoon) the cold porridge with the whipped cream. There should be no lumps. Put the almond in and stir around so it is well hidden. Serve with a raspberry or cherry sauce. Heat canned or frozen cherries or raspberries to boiling point – thicken with a little cornstarch mixed with water. Add sugar to taste and cool. Don’t forget to have a prize ready for the one who finds the almond! (A Christmas ornament, for example, or sometimes a marzipan pig!)

    MUCH SIMPLER METHOD from Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook

    Rice Pudding with Raspberry Sauce

    2/3 cup sugar 2 cups milk
    ½ cup water 1 ½ cups cooked rice
    2 envelopes unflavored gelatin 1 teaspoon vanilla
    ½ teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon almond extract
    1 cup whipping cream Raspberry Sauce (see below)

    Heat sugar, water, gelatin and salt in a 2-quart saucepan, stirring constantly, until gelatin is dissolved, about 1 minute. Stir in milk, rice, vanilla, and almond extract. Place saucepan in a bowl of ice cubes, stirring occasionally, until mixture mounds slightly when dropped from a spoon. (Cookbook says this will take 10 minutes, in my experience it takes a while longer, but don’t be discouraged, it will happen.)

    Beat whipping cream in chilled bowl until stiff. Fold whipped cream into rice mixture. Pour into a pretty clear glass serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours. (You can also use an ungreased 6-cup mold, and unmold by dipping the mold briefly in warm water, loosen edge with spatula, invert on serving plate. I’ve never done this.) Serve with Raspberry Sauce. 8 Servings.

    Raspberry Sauce

    1 package (10 oz.) frozen raspberries, thawed
    1 tablespoon cold water
    2 teaspoons cornstarch

    Heat raspberries (with their syrup) to boiling. Mix water and cornstarch, stir into raspberries. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir one minute. Cool. Press through a sieve to remove seeds, if desired. The word "risengrod" should have the o with a slash through it, but my method of making foreign letters does something weird to Blogger.

  3. What is a tradition that your family can't do without? (And by family, I mean family of origin, family of adulthood, or that bunch of cool people that just feel like family.) I would say it has to be dancing around the Christmas tree. (Although one year some of us were sick and we danced around the poinsettia plant instead.) This is a Danish custom that I acquired when I married OHP, and we have now introduced it to my family here in Maine. It's not so much dancing as walking and then skipping. You can go here to see and hear a video of our last year's dance.
  4. Pastors and other church folk often have very strange traditions dictated by the "work" of the holidays. What happens at your place? I am pretty much a spectator now, and we have had to change our Christmas Eve schedule to fit the new church's service hour. In City of Lakes, for many years I read a children's story during the service, so that was my tradition; and OHP and the girls usually were singing; so we would all arrive breathless at church at 4:30 for the 5:30 service, while SonShineIn (who always disapproved of C&E churchgoers so refuses to be one) stayed behind to build the fire and monitor the potatoes.
  5. If you could just ditch all the traditions and do something unexpected... what would it be? Within a couple of years we may find ourselves travelling to Cordeliaknits' place of work and worship, God willing that she gets a call (with a parsonage with room for us, please!) But we'd probably be recreating the same traditions there. Should a time come when it seemed like a good idea to do something really different, I am such a traditionalist that I'd vote for having Christmas in Denmark, England or Germany.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Good News, Bad News

Here's the good news: the sidewalk clearing machine shown above has now cleaned the sidewalks at the side of our house, so Rusty and I can again go on one of our habitual walks. It's been nice going downtown for walks, but encountering lots of people is a mixed blessing. He is a friendly dog, but still has a tendency to want to jump up on people, and when a lot of the people one meets are either elderly or young children, and the streets and sidewalks are icy, that's not such a great idea.
Here's the bad news: the weather report calls for more snow starting this afternoon and continuing all night. I think maybe it will not be quite as much this time, though. I have not finished Christmas shopping yet! I need to go to Big Outlet Town and City Whose Mayor Thinks It Should Secede (and oddly enough, said mayor looks a little like a younger version of Jesse Ventura....)! Or at least across the river to the Bullseye Store! Enough already! Sisterknits is pretty well assured of getting her White Christmas, though she would have had the same back in 10,000 Lakes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Nearly Tuneless Tuesday

I'm just too worn out from trudging. Trudging in my great big snow boots along the icy streets, first with the dog, then with library books and packages to mail, then with Christmas shopping, then with the dog again. I hope to have a better post tomorrow.
However, I do have a little musical discussion for you. Onkel Hankie Pants has been sampling from our collection of Christmas CDs along with less seasonal material, to listen to at work. The other day he came home asking me what well-known (to us) hymn has the same tune as "O Du Froehliche" (the oe should be an o with an umlaut). I had to look it up and was surprised to find that the hymn was "Lord, Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing," the tune name of which is SICILIAN MARINERS. Even after reading this it took me a while to realize that yes, they are the same -- it's just that we usually sing "Lord, Dismiss Us" quite fast, and the German/Austrian boychoirs I like to listen to sing "O Du Froehliche" quite slowly.
Then he came home with another mystery. He'd been listening to one of Garrison Keillor's Christmas collections, the one where Walter Bobbie tells about his Polish-American childhood Christmases and sings a few of the songs. OHP said that one of the Polish songs had a section that sounded just like a Danish hymn he knew, and even sang a few words of it (in English). I listened to the Polish hymn and after a while, I realized what it was -- there were two lines of music that were the same, or nearly the same, as those in a Danish Christmas carol that Keillor also sings, in one of the other Christmas CDs he's made. So if you happen to have both Danish and Polish Christmas songs in your collection (or the two collections, Now It Is Christmas Time and A Prairie Home Christmas), you can listen to "Gdy sie Chrystus rodzi" and "Dejlig er den Himmel blaa" and see what you think.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Accomplishments on a Snow Day Part 2

I'm trying this as a separate post because Blogger is having issues with uploading photos.
My big accomplishment today was in cleaning out and tidying the pantry. (Yesterday, I did the refrigerator, and was very pleased at how little I actually had to throw out.) Today again, there were only a few items that needed to be got rid of. One was prunes which "expired" in November. I use prunes for only one thing: roast pork with apples and prunes, our traditional Danish Christmas Eve dinner. I need to find a market that will sell me some loose prunes, as the left-behind prune package is an annual fixture here. Another was powdered buttermilk; in our humid climate it had solidified to a useless yellow mass in the canister. From now on I will just walk to the store and buy some real buttermilk if I need it for a recipe. Here are two pictures of my nice tidy pantry. Oddly, the tiles on the wall of the kitchen look pale grey, when in fact they are a rather lurid 50s aqua!
I also realized that we should be eating pancakes more often, for we have no less than three separate containers of pancake mix (one is special wild rice pancake mix from Minnesota). One night this week, whoever is here will have a pancake supper.

Accomplishments on a Snow Day Part 1

We are pretty well snowed in today, although Onkel Hankie Pants bravely walked to church and stopped at the supermarket on the way back for Sloppy Joe makings. Here is his other big accomplishment for the weekend. Yesterday, he and my nephew and nephew's girlfriend went up to our woods in Bowdoinham and cut Christmas trees. Our two stayed outside overnight and one is still out there, but the living room tree is up! We may put lights on it later in the week, but will wait for Sisterknits to help decorate it on Saturday.
Although I suppose, given the property taxes, this tree is really more expensive than the ones we used to get at Bachman's or the Lyndale Garden Center in Minneapolis, there is something very satisfying about a tree that grew on one's own family land. And it's a very nice balsam fir, which was in a good location so it is nicely full without looking groomed.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Pictures of snow for people who are lacking it

Here's the moon at 3:30 this afternoon.

Rusty is digging in the snow. He thinks he'll find a squirrel.
Some people don't have any snow! Some people don't have lions in front of their houses! Some people don't have a dog! Here are some photos for all those folks.

The lions are really covered in snow now. Rusty likes to climb the snowbanks.

Friday Five: Rejoice!

Mother Laura at RevGalBlogPals posted:

Can you believe that in two days we'll be halfway through Advent? Gaudete Sunday: pink candle on the advent wreath, rose vestments for those who have them, concerts and pageants in many congregations. Time to rejoice!

Rejoice in the nearness of Christ's coming, yes, but also in the many gifts of the pregnant waiting time when the world (in the northern hemisphere, at least) spins ever deeper into sweet, fertile darkness.

What makes you rejoice about:

1. Waiting?

I think that waiting is an indispensable part of our happiest times. With few exceptions, the coming of a child into our lives is preceded by a period of waiting, whether the nine months of a pregnancy or the sometimes much longer waiting period for an adoption. Sometimes that waiting is very hard, we want the child NOW. Yet, in addition to the practical reasons for the wait, there is a spiritual reason. Each child brings change into our lives and the waiting period gives us time to imagine how that change will affect our families. Yes, there are many sensible reasons for waiting.

There is also a dimension to waiting that is a bit harder to explain. There is the feeling of growing excitement that manifests as a feeling of fullness around the heart, which we usually manage to contain, but which occasionally causes us to break out in a shriek, a giggle, or a shiver of delighted expectation. That's the aspect of waiting that really makes me rejoice.

One of Sisterknits' and my favorite stories for this time of year is Karin's Christmas Walk by Susan Pearson. (It's out of print, but available in used bookstores and libraries, and worth the hunt.) In this simple story, a young girl, Karin, awaits the Christmas visit of her favorite uncle. There is uncertainty -- will he arrive in time, or at all? There is remembering, of the good times they have shared in the past, and of the stories of his and her mother's childhood. There is preparation: a trip to the store to pick up items her mother needs for the feast. There are distractions: neighbors to greet, new kittens at the neighborhood café. Finally, Karin arrives home and sees her uncle's truck in the driveway. She doesn't run into the house right away. Instead, she stops for a moment outside, peeking in through the window at her family. "For just one moment she thought, "Next is the very best, most wonderful time in the whole year." Then she opened the door." Karin understands the joy of waiting.

2. Darkness?
Living as I do on the eastern edge of the Eastern Time Zone, at latitude 43'9"N, I had better rejoice in darkness at this time of year. Sunset today is at 4:02 pm. By Solstice I'm sure it will be much closer to 3:30. Three or four of Rusty's daily walks take place in the dark.

I have to fight against a disinclination to stir out of the house after dark. It's probably an inheritance from centuries of New England (and Old Britain) ancestors who pretty much stayed in after the cows were milked in wintertime. But, that implicit permission to savor the comforts of home is part of what makes me rejoice in the dark. This is Dylan Thomas's "close and holy darkness" for me.

Thinking about darkness brings back a memory so strong I can almost see it. When I was back in Maine my last year of high school, I would often walk down the road to spend the evening with my grandmother -- drinking tea boiled in an old coffeepot on the wood stove, discussing books, or just companionably reading our separate books together. Eventually would come the time to go home to bed. There were no other houses between my grandparents' and ours, and there was a part of the road where I couldn't see the lights of home ahead. On a clear winter's night, I would be surrounded by white snowfields giving way to dark woods, with a huge dark sky overhead, filled with stars. There was a certain existential terror in this experience -- although I knew and felt no fear of any human or animal assailant, yet I shivered and quickened my steps to escape this place where I felt small and alone. But -- when I want to capture the true meaning of awe -- what I use is the memory of those starlit walks up the Millay Road.

3. Winter?

As I am someone who has chosen to retire to a state with "nine months of winter and three months of damn' poor sleddin'," (after living 30+ years in a place with even harsher winters), it is no surprise that I rejoice in winter. Yes, even now, when I have to put on my heavy boots, coat, scarf, hat and mittens several times a day just to walk the dog. This year we have been having a more normal Maine winter than recently, with plenty of snow and more to come. It's so beautiful. I've never been much of a winter sportsperson (or summer, fall or spring sportsperson for that matter) although I did my share of sliding as a child, and also enjoyed just observing winter's changes -- I remember one year in Connecticut when it was cold enough that the salt water of Long Island Sound froze several feet out from shore and how fascinating that was. Walking through a gentle snowfall, waking up to a world covered in sparkling white -- these parts of winter are easy to rejoice in. But also to rejoice in is the feeling of at last reaching your house when you've been struggling home through a blizzard, and the joy of getting warm after feeling you would never be warm again. So, Southern folks, don't feel too sorry for us Northerners. We have our compensations.

Of course I could not write a whole blog post without being reminded of a song. This one I have known for a long time but had forgotten until today because I no longer have my old vinyl albums. Judy Collins sang it on one of her early records, and I don't know who wrote it. It's a good Advent song: "Out Under the Winter Sky...I feel like something's being born, Tells my soul not to mourn."

4. Advent?

It's hard to imagine Christmas without Advent now, although as a child I don't think I knew much about it. Although I vow every year to do Christmas preparations throughout the year, that usually doesn't happen. This year, a combination of poorly-timed head colds, a husband rehearsing seemingly non-stop for three theatrical performances, and my old procrastination problem, has put me behind. Thus, this Advent has not been as peaceful and reflective a time as I would wish. (And I have no church responsibilities!) I appreciate the chance to blog and especially the Friday Fives for prompting some reflection at least once a week.

5. Jesus' coming?

Hmmm. In the eschatological sense? I don't think about it much. Of course, we celebrate Jesus' coming at Christmas each year, but I rejoice in it each day of the year that I see evidence of the Kingdom of God in the good and charitable actions, large and small, that people of all faiths (and no faith) daily perform. Bad news sells, but the Good News is there too if we remember to look for it. I think my dear husband said it well in one of his Christmas carols:
Our Christmas trip's within us,
Here is the end and start,
For Bethlehem is found in
Each kind and humble heart.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tuneful Tuesday: Nine Songs for Chanukah

Tonight is the last night of Chanukah, and I've been making and eating potato latkes (actually, sweet potato and potato latkes). Since I'm not, after all, Jewish, I don't light candles or sing the blessings, but I do like to listen to some Chanukah songs and eat latkes at this time of year. So, here are nine Chanukah songs: one for each night of the holiday and one for the shammes, the candle that lights the others.

1. Chanukah, Oy Chanukah -- Traditional -- Western Wind. This was the first Chanukah song I ever learned, and probably the first I ever heard of Chanukah. It was in fifth grade at Point Beach School in Milford, CT, and in those days we learned Christmas songs in public school, and Chanukah songs too, at least in my school. So we learned an English version of this song, and probably sang it at some kind of program. Many years later, Onkel Hankie Pants got to sing it on stage, when he played the role of Mr. Dussell in a production of The Diary of Anne Frank at the Minneapolis Jewish Community Center. I like this Yiddish version better than any of the English translations.

2. Hanukkah Blessings -- Steven Page -- Barenaked Ladies. This is a relatively new song, by the guitarist and founding member of the Canadian band Barenaked Ladies. I find it almost too heart-warming. It also addresses the difficulties of maintaining a Jewish identity in the midst of "the jingle bells and the toys, and the TV shows and the noise" of the cultural Christmas celebration.

3. Light One Candle -- Peter Yarrow -- Peter, Paul and Mary and the New York Choral Society. From the quintessential 60s folk group, a quintessential 60s Chanukah song that exhorts us, "Don't let the light go out!" As an old 60s person myself, I think we need songs like this more than ever.

4. Maoz Tzur -- Traditional -- Western Wind. This is a Chanukah hymn:
Rock of Ages, let our song
Praise Thy saving power.
Thou, amidst the raging throng
Wast our shelt'ring tower.
Furious they assailed us
But Thine arm availed us
And Thy word
Broke their sword
When our own strength failed us.

5. Al Hanissim -- Traditional -- Zamir Chorale of Boston. A prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance, said on Purim and, with additional words about the Maccabees, on Chanukah. It's mentioned in the earlier song, Chanukah, Oy Chanukah when they sing "singt Alhanissim".

6. Hanerot Hallelu -- Traditional -- Priscilla Herdman, Anne Hills, Cindy Mangsen. This traditional chant, mentioned in the Talmud, explains that the sole purpose of the Chanukah lights is to remember and publicize the miracle of Chanukah, and therefore they are not to be used for any purpose other than to be looked at and enjoyed. The trio of Herdman, Hills and Mangsen is one of my favorites for their beautiful harmonies.

7. Chanukah Chase -- Unknown -- Magpie. I suspect this may be a contemporary song. The duo who recorded it here say only that they learned it from their good friends The Short Sisters. It doesn't have a lot of substance, but it's a very pretty tune and I like the image of the candlelight on the snow.

8. I Have a Little Dreydel -- Attr. to Michael Gelbart -- Zamir Chorale of Boston. Here's the one all our kids learned in nursery school. This version will put nursery school right out of your head! According to the liner notes, the band Tayku was the first to do this rock'n'roll version.

9. Bashanah Haba'ah -- Nurit Hirsh -- Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus. This isn't specifically a Chanukah song. The Hebrew words talk of "next year" when we will sit on the porch, grapes will ripen, everything will be peaceful. They remind me of the prophecy of Micah: "They shall sit every man under his own vine and his own fig tree, and none shall make them afraid." In recent years, new English words have become popular, which seem to look to a time of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. May it be so!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

By the way...

I removed some Page Elements last night when I was having troubles with Blogger and the Webring code. Also because I'm too busy with Christmas preparations to do a lot of significant reading right now; I took a bunch of books back to the library yesterday with plans to check them out again after the holidays. If you want information about the albums that hold my last Tuneful Tuesday, leave a comment.

I joined, and Answer to a complaint

You'll see something new at the top of the page to the left -- I have joined the RevGalBlogPals webring! I am not now, never have been, and doubtless never will be a Rev -- although I have served on many church committees, and been an administrative assistant at three different churches, UCC, United Methodist and Lutheran. But I do fit the GalBlogPals part and thanks to Songbird for inviting me (hers was the first of their blogs I read). It turns out that I've also spoken on the telephone to 33 Names of Grace, because she's a good friend of Best Boss Ever who was the minister at Up the Hill UMC when I worked there.

I have had a complaint from one of my readers. Onkel Hankie Pants, that well-known nitpicker, came in person (that is, he walked downstairs from his office/den) to ask, "Who is the third sister-outlaw?" (I hadn't yet added Temple Truck Woman). So I told him. He then complained that there should be at least one additional sister-outlaw because Brother #3 was married once, a long, long time ago. After lengthy explanation, I still don't think he gets it, so here is my brief explanation and see if you agree!

I coined the term (although someone else may have coined it independently) "sister-outlaw" some years ago because I wanted a nice brief word to describe various people in my life. They are people with whom I have an ongoing relationship (and this is the important part!) because of a present or former relationship with one of my brothers, but who are not currently, or maybe ever, married-by-law to said brother. If they were, I could just say "sister-in-law." Brother #3's ex-wife does not fit this definition; I met her once, don't even know where she lives now, nor does he as far as I know. All the brothers had girlfriends in their younger days, some of whom I met, and they were all very nice people, but there is no ongoing relationship. So they are not sisters-outlaw either. I should mention that the sisters-outlaw who are such because of former relationships are also still friends with my brothers, so no need for letters to Dear Abby here.

So, feel free to use my coinage if you are lucky enough to have some people like this in your life. Mine are all fantastic people who add a lot to our family, as do my two sisters-IN-law.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

L C Van Savage and Me

Our local newspaper columnist and now public television personality, L C Van Savage, complained in a recent column that old advertising jingles keep popping into her head, and sometimes, out of her mouth. One of the ones she mentioned was the Rheingold Beer song. Oddly enough (she's about 10 years older than I), the Rheingold Beer jingle is one of the ones that pops into my head too, but only at this time of year. Actually, there are two. One is
My beer is Rheingold, the dry beer,
Think of Rheingold whenever you buy beer.
Season's greetings to you
From your favorite brew
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
and the other starts out:
Rheingold Beer, Rheingold Beer,
Rheingold Extra Dry....
Of course, the latter is sung to the tune of Jingle Bells. The former, I learned some time later, was sung to the tune of the Estudiantina Waltz by Emile Waldteufel. The year-round jingle is even mentioned in the Wikipedia article on said waltz.

Why has this jingle stuck in my memory? Just before Christmas of 1957, my family returned from two years in Germany, where television was on only in German and for a very few hours a day, and the radio was Armed Forces Network, with no commercials. I don't remember a huge culture shock, but obviously all the singing commercials made a deep impression on me. (I remember the Robert Hall one too, as well as Bosco and Bonomo's Turkish Taffy.) Rheingold Beer was a local New York beer, probably available in Connecticut where we lived as well; and we listened to and watched New York radio and TV stations. Rheingold was well-known for sponsoring the Miss Rheingold contest. I don't believe I've ever tasted it.

I hear and see very few commercials these days, but my impression is that it's much more common now for advertisers to buy the rights to use popular songs as background for their commercials. I know they do this, but I can't call to mind any particular song-product association. I wonder if it's as effective as the old advertising jingles, or is it just effective in a different way?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Friday Five: Preparation

The RevGalBlogPals (which I plan to join as soon as I have extra money after Christmas) Friday Five this week deals with preparation.

1. You have a busy week, pushing out all time for preparing worship/ Sunday School lessons/ being ready for an important meeting ( or whatever equivalent your profession demands)- how do you cope?
Procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate. Then scurry around doing what's absolutely necessary. At least, sadly, that is my usual method. Once in a while I get sensible.

2. You have unexpected visitors, and need to provide them with a meal- what do you do?
This hardly ever happens to us. But, since we can easily walk to the supermarket, the natural food store, and several nice restaurants, and I usually have some sort of food in the freezer/pantry and a microwave for defrosting, we would probably just decide something based on how far visitors had come, how tired they were, how hungry, etc.

Three discussion topics:

3. Thinking along the lines of this weeks advent theme; repentance is an important but often neglected aspect of advent preparations.....
Well, this year I'm repenting not having done more shopping/preparation earlier in the year. Then I wouldn't be doing a voice-recording project while getting over a cold; and so on. I don't know if it qualifies as repentance as such, but I am glad that this year I successfully (to cries of delight, actually) broached the idea of drawing names for presents to the extended family. It will help our celebration be a bit more people-focussed and less stuff-focussed.

4. Some of the best experiences in life occur when you simply go with the flow.....
Yes, I would agree. But then, I'm an INFP like a surprising number of the other RGBPs. (Do you know we're like, 1% of the population or something?) That said, the "I" part of me does sometimes need a lot of positive self-talk to engage in social activities, so for those things I do need a bit more preparation.

5. Details are everything, attention to the small things enables a plan to roll forward smoothly...
Although this is not my first instinct, I have found that it helps me with activities that are not second nature to me -- such as entertaining -- it works better if I have lists, lists, lists even down to which dish and spoon to use for serving the mashed potatoes. If I have to make decisions at the last minute I get a little freaky.

Bonus if you dare- how well prepared are you for Christmas this year?
Not very. Tree not cut yet, don't know when it will be as OHP has rehearsals for two plays. Christmas letter not written yet, never mind mailed. Presents are getting under control, invitations are out for Christmas Eve but not yet for another party later in the week. BUT, Sisterknits has her plane ticket here and that's the most important thing this year!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A quick report on the Jazz Concert

This evening OHP, the Herbalist and I went all the way to Our State's Capital to hear a Jazz Concert in which my Sisteroutlaw*, The Fiddler, was performing. She is getting a degree in Jazz Performance (I think) at the University there, while also holding down a full-time job. What a great concert! The first part was two young men and one somewhat older one (joined in a couple of numbers by one more young man) and was billed as Jazz Vocals. It was a wonderful mixture of different types of songs tinged just enough with jazz sounds to be really fun to listen to. They started with two Christmas songs, Gaudete and Riu, Riu Chiu -- both of which, I think, have a bit of a jazz feel even when they're done by Authentic Period Performers. Then a Ghanaian Alleluia, two barbershop quartet numbers, Seven Bridges Road (introduced as an Eagles song. Who knew? Evidently, all but me and OHP, who both remembered it as a Dolly Parton song. The Eagles fall into that no-man's-land of popular music for me that lasts from about 1973 to 1988 or so -- in other words from when I stopped living in college dorms and barracks to when SonShineIn became a teenager). A Mel Tormé song, Born to be Blue, that I liked a lot. Mack the Knife and It Don't Mean a Thing. Good stuff! The Fiddler sat in on Riu, Riu Chiu and added a really funky sound to it.
After a short intermission came the Latin Jazz Ensemble which played great Cuban dance tunes. Also the bass from the vocal group was in this group and sang Besame Mucho -- a tune I recall hearing on the clock radio I told about a few days ago. Some of the songs were identified with Tito Puente which made me think about going to Little Tijuana in City of Lakes (it's a restaurant) -- there's a mural on the wall there showing a theater marquee advertising an appearance by Tito Puente. The Fiddler fiddled, drummers drummed, pianist played, guitarists, people blowing on things, even a gourd. Good stuff and some of the younger folks were dancing behind us.
The concert reminded OHP and me of the days when Sisterknits was at Rudy Perpich's Good Idea High School. They, also, had concerts at the end of the semester and, like these musicians, they were not only putting on a great show but showing what they had learned. The level of musicianship was often as high as tonight's, the youthful energy likewise (although some of the "youth" tonight were in their 50s, but I think playing music must keep you young). And, the slight tension because, even if you aren't being specifically graded on the evening's performance, it is sort of like a final exam. The Latin Jazz Ensemble was composed of people who are just completing a one-semester course in Latin Jazz. Most of them had not played in this musical idiom before and we were told that the drummers were not primarily percussionists and had only begun learning the drums they played a few months ago. All in all it was well worth the drive. Is there a college or even high school concert nearby that you could attend?

*I have two sisters-in-law, and I also have three sisters-outlaw, one for each brother. This one used to be married to Brother #2. He and their son also attended the concert so it was nice to see them as well.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Tuneful Tuesday: Advent Songs

Now we really are in the season of Advent. And, although there may still be pressure from congregations and even choirs and music staff to jump into Christmas music, more and more clergy seem to be holding the line and keeping to Advent songs for at least the first two Sundays. By the third week, they usually have to give up, as they are running into either Major Choir Performance or Children's Christmas Pageant. Hard to argue with those 600-lb. gorillas.

I, as so often, can sympathize with both sides. There is so much good sacred Christmas music that a Christmas Eve service and one or two Sundays in Christmastide really aren't enough to sing a reasonable number of them. Add to that the certainty that one must include the usual favorites on Christmas Eve for those who come only once or twice a year. Go to a concert that includes audience participation and you get the same old chestnuts. It's no wonder we are tempted to begin early.

On the other hand, not only are the longing and meditative aspects of Advent important for our full understanding of Incarnation, but speaking purely musically, there are many treasures which too often remain unsung. Here's my list of favorite songs for Advent, most of which would be appropriately sung in church. I've tried to arrange them roughly chronologically as to date of musical composition, just because. See sidebar for where to get albums or, in some cases, downloads of individual songs.

1. Conditor Alme Siderum (Creator of the Stars of Night) -- Gregorian Chant -- Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chant Choir
The text of this piece is said to date to the 7th century. Pope Urban VIII, in a wholesale rewriting of texts to conform with "classical Latin poetry" in 1632, changed all but one line of the original and it was retitled Creator Alme Siderum. (For those of you who, like me, had only two years of Latin, or less, conditor means creator; creator means creator and/or founder, hence the occasional translation "O blessed founder of the stars".) The tune is the same. However, at some point since 1632, the original text was restored and is the one usually translated now, as far as I can tell. I find Gregorian chant puts me in as meditative a state as it's possible for someone with terminal monkey-mind to reach, and of course, in Latin. The group singing this version is not a group of nuns, but a few women who are involved with the Community Music Center of Santa Cruz, California.

2. Veni, Veni Emmanuel (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel) -- Probably 15th century -- The King's Singers
So, is there anyone who went to church last Sunday and didn't sing or hear this? (Unitarians and Orthodox excepted, for different reasons.) I suspect it's the most-sung Advent hymn of all and with good reason. Although I've heard some pretty poor renditions, the tune remains one that induces a spirit of reverence. The words, based on the traditional "O Antiphons" which were sung in the week before Christmas, give us many ways to think about Jesus. According to The New Oxford Book of Carols, the "O Antiphons" date to at least the 8th century. This metrical rendering was in use as early as the 13th century, and was translated into English in the 19th century by J. M. Neale and T. Helmore. The origins of the tune which Neale published with it were mysteriously lost until its rediscovery in 1966 in a 15th-century French manuscript. There are many, many recordings of this hymn, often in English, but I prefer the King's Singers' Latin rendition.

3/ The Cherry Tree Carol -- Kentucky Traditional -- John Langstaff, baritone, Carol Duveneck, Appalachian dulcimer, and Susan Robbins, psaltery
Here's one you're not so likely to hear in church, based as it is on a tale from the apocryphal Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew which later turned up (with a change from date palm to cherry tree) in the 15th century Coventry Play. Still, it seems appropriate to me in this season of waiting to have a song about a pregnant Mary who has food cravings! Many, many versions of this song have been collected both in the United Kingdom and in the United States, and The New Oxford Book of Carols (hereafter TNOBC) actually presents it as a sort of song cycle with three very different segments. The version presented here by the late John Langstaff, founder of the Christmas Revels, uses a tune colelcted in Kentucky. It also includes one of my favorite phrases, which some other versions leave out (TNOBC has it in the third segment):
"the stars and the elements will tremble with glee"
at Jesus' birth. By the way, the song also says that the birth will be on the sixth of January -- "Old Christmas" was celebrated in parts of Appalachia for quite some time after the calendar change of 1752.

4. Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence -- Picardy Carol, 17th century -- The Miserable Offenders
These may be the second-oldest set of lyrics in this group of songs, dating as they are said to do to the 4th century. (For the oldest, see the next entry.) The tune, known as Picardy from the French region where it is said to have originated, is probably 17th century. The hymn is often used as a communion hymn and is suggested for various other uses during the church year, but it is also well-suited to Advent as we await the time when
"Christ our God to earth descendeth".
Another verse says:
At His feet the six-winged seraphs,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the Presence
As with ceaseless voice they cry
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia, God most high!
When I sing this I like to remember the old St. John's Abbey Church at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota. The new church, designed by Marcel Breuer, is a masterpiece of modern architecture. The former church, deconsecrated and now, I believe, the place where you go to buy St. John's Bread, has huge pictures which seem perfectly to illustrate the verse above.
The Miserable Offenders are two Episcopalian laywomen who sang together for a time and made a couple of recordings. Their music is perhaps not for everyone, but I like it immensely. On this piece they are accompanying themselves with a tongue drum and synthesizer.

5. Magnificat cum Alleluia -- Gregorian Chant -- Nóirín Ní Riain
Of course the Magnificat, Mary's song of praise at the Annunciation, is the oldest text in this group (Luke 1:46-55). The tune is also old, but the liner notes say only that it was found in Cantus Selecti published at Solesmes in 1949. The Irish singer Nóirín Ní Riain's voice lends an unearthly beauty to the chant.
Both this song and "Let All Mortal Flesh..." include multiple alleluias. Not being of a liturgical tradition, I thought I'd better make sure "alleluia" was not forbidden during Advent as it is during Lent (something I didn't know about until a few years ago). So I performed a Google(tm) search. Roman Catholics and Anglicans were clear that, as Advent is more a season of hope than of penitence, alleluia may be said or sung during it. (Not so with "Gloria in excelsis deo," at least as a response during the service, which is, quite properly, reserved until Christmas.) However, I did find one blog entry by a guy who said he was a Lutheran, and that Alleluia should not be sung during Advent. I returned to the entry just now and figured out he was probably either a Missouri or Wisconsin Synod Lutheran, as he referred to his worship book/hymnal as the LSB rather than the LBW or the "cranberry hymnal". Some people had commented and suggested that the prohibition on Alleluia during Advent had somehow crept in while no one was looking. I wonder if these Lutherans prohibit Bach's great Lutheran cantata "Wachet auf" or any of its translations in hymn form? Any Lutheran readers are invited to comment!

6. Zion hört die Wächter singen -- Chorale from Cantata "Wachet auf" BWV 140, J. S. Bach -- Francisco Araiza, tenor
And, speaking of "Wachet auf," here is the second verse of Philipp Nicolai's hymn, set by J. S. Bach as part of a cantata. I don't know why I chose this chorale above the somewhat better known "Wachet auf," except that it's a very rare thing -- a Christmas/Advent hymn whose first line begins with Z. It's very useful -- nay, indispensable -- if you are trying to get to sleep by singing Christmas songs in your head, in reverse alphabetical order! (Yes, there are a few more. One in Czech, one in Polish, one in Russian, and one in German where the Z is for Zu. I don't really know the tunes for them, though.) You can read the words and translation of Nicolai's whole hymn here. Mexican tenor Francisco Araiza does a lovely job singing this, I think.

7. People, Look East -- Besançon carol, 17th century -- Marty Haugen and friends
This is an Advent hymn (it's in the United Methodist Hymnal, at least) set to an upbeat tune -- a carol from northeastern France, near the Swiss border, which may well be 17th century, as it was published in 1717 as "more than a century old." The older text to this tune is "Shepherds, shake off your drowsy sleep" or, in French, "Berger, Secoue Ton Sommeil Profond." The newer text, which speaks to our Advent preparations, is by the English poet and children's writer Eleanor Farjeon, who also wrote the lyric for Morning Has Broken. (No rude comments, please. It's Our Song.) I think it's an excellent marriage of text and tune, and could well cheer up a congregation that might think some Advent tunes too gloomy. Marty Haugen is a Minnesota composer and musician best known for liturgical settings, but who also does some performing and recording.

8. O Heiland, reiß die Himmel auf --German chorale melody, arranged by Johannes Brahms -- Wilhelmshavener Vokalensemble
This rather old piece of music is new to me since last Advent. It is included in a CD that Cordeliaknits' first seminary roommate, now back in Germany, sent me as a Christmas present last year. Each piece of music on it is performed twice, once on organ by Albert Behrends and once vocally by the Wilhelmshavener Vokalensemble. An interesting recording since, in addition to older music, it includes two hymns written by World War II - era German pastors, one of whom was a member of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Confessing Church, and the other -- was not. Reconciliation is still going on. The text (you'll need to scroll down to find it) "O Savior, rend the heavens" speaks not only of Jesus' breaking of the barrier between God and man, but also brings in the longing for spring and the return of light which is even more desirable in Germany than here in Maine at this time of year. (Stuttgart, where this friend lives when she's not at seminary in Tübingen, is rather far south in Germany; its latitude lies between those of Bismarck, ND and Calgary, Alberta.) The music reminded me that I should listen to some more Brahms after Christmas is over.

9. Sankta Lucia -- Neapolitan Traditional -- Anne-Sofie von Otter
Here is another song you aren't likely to hear in church, unless your church is called something like Augustana Lutheran, and even then, it will likely be at a special event. December 13, the Feast of St. Lucy aka Sankta Lucia, falls about midway through Advent. Most people probably have heard of the Swedish custom of having the eldest daughter dress in a white gown, with a lighted crown, and bring breakfast rolls to the rest of the family. Many Swedish-American churches and other groups have Luciadag ceremonies elsewhere than in homes, as well. There are several songs traditional to this activity, but probably the best-known is this one, which is set to a traditional Neapolitan tune of the same name (in Italian), first transcribed in the early 19th century. I picture a visiting Swede hearing it (the Italian words are more of a travelogue about a place called Santa Lucia) and realizing it was just the thing for Luciadag singing. Anne-Sofie von Otter is a Swedish mezzo-soprano. For a more humorous take on the song, see the Garrison Keillor album noted in the sidebar. His version makes the story into something resembling Babette's Feast.

10. Prepare the Way, O Zion/Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus -- Swedish Melody before 1560/Psalmodia Sacra, 1715, attr. to Christian Witt -- The Miserable Offenders
Here are the Miserable Offenders again, this time mixing two Advent hymns and accompanying them with tongue drum, djembe, and synthesizer. Prepare the Way, O Zion was written by Frans M. Franzen, who was born in Finland and later became a bishop in Sweden. Its setting is a Swedish folk tune, given the name Bereden Väg för Herran after the hymn text. The tune as played in the Cyberhymnal's MIDI is speeded up quite a bit by the Miserable Offenders, so that one can imagine it as a sort of Swedish dance. (Only former Danish folkdancers will really get this.)
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus was written by Charles Wesley (December 18 is the 300th anniversary of his birth). The Cyberhymnal and most recordings I could find set it to Hyfrydol. Hyfrydol is a lovely tune and one of my favorites, but I just don't see it as an Advent hymn and evidently The Miserable Offenders agreed. The tune Stuttgart, attributed to Christian Witt, seems much more suitable to me, and besides, it's what I'm used to, being in both the Pilgrim Hymnal and New Century Hymnal for this text.

11. Blomstre som en Rosengard -- J. P. E. Hartmann -- Musica Ficta
This one will not be familiar to most readers who are not related to me. I married into a family of Danish Grundtvigians, Lutherans who adhered to the theology and, even more, to the poetry of the Danish Bishop N. F. S. Grundtvig. This Advent hymn was one of my mother-in-law's favorites. Unless you have access to a copy of the Hymnal for Church and Home, published in 1938 by the two Danish-American Lutheran Synods then active (the "Happy Danes" and the "Holy Danes"), you may look for it in vain (although it is apparently still extant in Denmark where several groups have put it on their Christmas albums). The words were written by N. F. S. Grundtvig himself and show his love of nature imagery. The first two verses essentially paraphrase Isaiah 35:1-6; the last two relate that prophecy to Christ's coming. Cordeliaknits tells me that this is no longer theologically correct, but we continue to read this prophecy -- Third Sunday in Advent, this year -- so why not sing the song too? The music is by J. P. E. Hartmann, a Danish composer who seems, from some of the other things he wrote, to have had many of the same interests as Grundtvig in folklore. The English translation, of which I quote the first two verses below, is by Rev. S. D. Rodholm, as are many of the English translations of songs we have sung over the years at West Denmark Family Camp. He was the President of Grand View College during the years my father-in-law was a student there, and his daughter and granddaughter are family friends to this day.
Blossom as a rose shall here
All the desert places,
Blossom when the golden year
Shines on saddened faces.
Glory crowns proud Lebanon,
Carmel's height has splendor won,
Flowers bloom in Sharon.

Sight is given to the blind
And their eyes shall glisten,
Ev'ry mute his voice shall find,
All the deaf shall listen;
Like the hart the lame shall leap,
Zion nevermore shall weep,
Peace shall reign forever.
Musica Ficta is a Danish group. Until I can have a recording of Sisterknits singing this song, I'll be satisfied with them.

12. What Is the Crying at Jordan? -- Traditional Irish Tune, given the name St. Mark, Berkeley -- The Miserable Offenders
Can you tell I really, really like The Miserable Offenders? Of course, they also put several Advent songs on their Advent/Christmas album. In this one they use a Tibetan singing bowl as their only accompaniment. This relatively contemporary hymn (it's found in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982) seems to inspire strong feelings. Its words are frequently quoted in priestly columns in parish newsletters, and I've read comments from choir directors who either love it or hate it. I quite like to listen to the song, but I'm not sure about trying to sing it as an average congregant with below-average vocal skills. I must mention a bit of synchronicity. I had never heard of St. Mark's Church, Berkeley, California until a few weeks ago when OHP mentioned that our church organist, during his sabbatical, would be playing a recital at "St. Mark's Cathedral in Berkeley." Having visited Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, on my trip to Berkeley last spring, I doubted there would be another Episcopal cathedral so near. So I looked it up and discovered that, no, it isn't a cathedral, but its organ is as good as a cathedral organ. It's not far from where Cordeliaknits goes to seminary. Then, in researching this hymn, I learned (through an old newsletter from Cathy's church) about the reason the tune was called St. Mark's, Berkeley -- Carol Christopher Drake, the hymnwriter, was or is a member there. Such occurrences always amaze me a little.

13. Koppången -- Pereric Moraeus -- Anne-Sofie von Otter
This is the newest of the songs, written by a Swedish folk musician who sometimes performs with Benny Anderson of ABBA. He writes of passing a lighted church in a frozen Swedish valley, hearing the choir singing, and knowing that "those who have left us here had the same thoughts as I." In the beginning of the song, he seems to be outside the church, but by the last two verses he has joined the congregation and can sing and believe "a hymn of grace and glory," and "that's why I'm lighting a candle each Sunday in Advent."
We here in the States hear a lot about how Christian, church-going believers are an infinitesimally small percentage of the population in Scandinavia, Germany and the United Kingdom. Yet, I've "met" through RevGalBlogPals and elsewhere several clergy and laypeople from these places who don't seem to be despairing nor think their efforts are futile. If people can still write songs like Koppången, maybe there is hope for the church -- yes, even in Sweden.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Snow is here!

For those of you who don't live in snowy climes, here is what you are missing (whether you're happy about missing it or not is up to you!) Snow began late last night or early this morning; it doesn't appear to be too crippling yet, but forecasts are for up to 8" so we'll see. I haven't been out yet, but brave Onkel Hankie Pants has taken the dog for a walk, done a little shoveling, and driven off to spend the day tweaking maps on the computer. Here's what I've seen out the window. To the left, these are the lions that flank our front steps, nearly covered with snow. (As are the steps. The walk from there to the front door is rather steep, and we try to discourage people from using that door in the snowy, icy winter.)

Here is a photo of the arborvitae or whatever it is, next to
our front door. My attempt at artistic nature photography!
It is quite pretty. This is the first "real" snow we've had this season; there was one day when snow came out of the sky and stuck to leaves and grass, but melted on
the roadways and sidewalks and was soon gone entirely.

Next there will be a view of the parking lot across the street (apartment building) which I have entitled "Get out those brushes and scrapers!" You can also see the big overhead electric lines which ensure power outages whenever there is a big ice storm.

And finally, for anyone who wants to see a living being, here is a photo of Rusty, resting from his morning walk, sitting in his favorite chair in the living room. I think the snow had stopped for a while when he and OHP were out, as he wasn't wet at all when he jumped on the bed on his return. It's snowing again now, though. In this photo he was interested in what I was doing going to all the windows and using the camera, but often, he hangs his head over the arm of the chair -- this one has just the right proportions for him to do that comfortably.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Some thoughts on Ave Maria

While preparing for a future Tuneful Tuesday, I counted at least 21 versions of Ave Maria in my collection of music. Most of them were either set to the music of Bach/Gounod or that of Schubert. The odd thing at first glance seemed to be that the Schubert settings far outstripped the Bach/Gounod in number. Now, I've always had a little trouble keeping the two straight in my musical memory, and I also wanted to listen to each and decide which I liked best. I downloaded the sheet music for both settings (along with the German words to the Schubert, about which more later) -- although I can't sight-sing or "really" read music, I can watch the notes go up and down. Then I hit "Play" and started to follow along. What a surprise! Several of the versions that Windows Media Player had informed me were by Schubert were, in fact, the Bach/Gounod setting. From an initial count of 3, Bach/Gounod went to 9, with 7 renditions of the Schubert (the others were by Bruckner and others). So, when I used the "Find Album Info" feature on Windows Media Player, I was often getting not only the occasional typo I had noticed, but sometimes attribution to the wrong composer.

For anyone who has had the same trouble as I in instantly telling the two settings apart, here are my three no-fail tips:
1. If the words are in German, it is doubtless the Schubert. And in fact, it then isn't really Ave Maria, but Ellens Gesang, an incidental song for a play based on Sir Walter Scott's The Lady of the Lake. (In my grandmother's bookcase there was a copy of this in a very pretty white and gold binding; I always intended to read it but never did.) In this song, Ellen, who is fleeing, prays to the Virgin to keep her safe, as one maiden to another, and at greater length than the original prayer.
2. If, after the first "gratia plena," the singer starts repeating himself, it is the Schubert. This is because the Latin words of the Ave Maria had to be stretched (some say, unmercifully) to fit the music composed for a poem in German.
3. If the song ends with "Amen, Amen" it is the Bach/Gounod. If it ends with "Ave Maria" (as if the singer had been set an extensive penance!) it is the Schubert.

Maybe I'm the only one who needs these tips? I think I've got it straight now, especially after watching and listening to these two wonderful things on YouTube. First, Bobby McFerrin does the accompaniment (the Bach part, from Prelude No. 1, The Well-Tempered Clavier) while his audience sings the Gounod Ave Maria.

This reminds me of seeing and hearing McFerrin a few years ago at a choral concert series at Da U in City of Lakes. He did a similar thing with us. If you're still holding "Don't Worry, Be Happy" against him, get over it. He's an amazing musician.

Then, another one that may bring a tear or two -- Luciano Pavarotti singing the Schubert Ave Maria.

Being a Trinitarian Universalist, I believe that Pavarotti is now singing this for Schubert; or maybe he and John McCormack are doing duets on Danny Boy.

Why is a Protestant girl listening to Ave Maria anyway? Well, although we still balk at asking her to intercede for us, we descendants of the Puritans are gaining a new appreciation for Mary as the Mother of God and an example of trust in God. Especially during Advent, we even sing songs about Mary in church; and I have heard the Ave Maria sung in a Congregational church, and the roof didn’t fall in.

Leave a comment if you will.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Random thoughts

  • The RevGalBlogPals Friday Five was about Christmas things they disliked. (I couldn't think of enough grumps to play this one). Pretty uniform distaste was shown for inflatable lawn figures. I must confess -- we had one for a few years. It was a snowman bought at a going-out-of-business sale, an ironic welcome home display the year both daughters were at school on the Right Coast. We got it because we knew it would embarrass them (a homemade sign was added.) When we moved, we left it with The Traveller for the cabin in America's Dairyland, where she will put it up for a day or two at most. I hope I won't be shunned for this confession!
  • I made turkey soup on Thursday with the remnants of the Thanksgiving turkey. It was good. But, it took most of the day and dirtied a lot of dishware. OHP and Rusty had a slight altercation Friday morning when the trash bag containing the turkey bones was being removed. Nothing serious, but some growling was heard. Rusty doesn't understand the concept of "not good for dogs."
  • My throat has been sore all week with almost no sign of a head cold. I have a little sniffle, but nothing like some family members have been struggling with. I don't know whether to be pleased or otherwise. What if it's sore for two weeks? Or three?
  • They're expecting snow in City of Lakes today. A "heavy wintry mix" is forecast here for Monday. It would be nice to see snow, but not so nice for walking the dog.
  • We'd like to go to the Methodist Church public breakfast this morning, but last month there was some doubt whether it might be postponed to next Sunday. They aren't listed in any of our three phone books (and don't get me started on that!) and the number listed in the local paper was wrong. It's a long way to go with nothing at the end, although we'd be able to find a restaurant fairly close by. Decisions, decisions! And doesn't the Book of Discipline say you have to have a website, or is it just email, or just in Minnesota?
  • If you're wondering how we're doing here with heating oil so high -- not too badly, as long as the sun shines a little. We keep the thermostat at 58-60 degrees overnight (otherwise I get a headache, who knows why). But in the morning, if it's clear, I don't turn it up -- just raise the blinds on our south- and east-facing picture windows. I usually don't touch the thermostat till the sun goes down. Bless Mr. Bernier, who built this house in 1951, and let perpetual light shine upon him!

Friday, November 30, 2007

St. Olaf Christmas Festival broadcast Sunday

In an earlier post I talked about the St. Olaf Christmas Festival, and Sisterknits commented that it will be simulcast in theaters across the country this year. I've just learned that it will also be broadcast over the radio on many public radio stations -- check your local one for time. Or, you can tune in over the Internet to Minnesota Public Radio at 3:30 Central Time on Sunday, December 2 and listen then. (Minnesota Public Radio has 3 different streams of broadcasting -- you'll want to choose the Classical.) This year's festival has the theme "Where Peace and Love Abide."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Candy Cane Monday Meme on Thursday

Cathy tagged me for this, which she got from Presbyterian Gal. From a Presbyterian to an Episcopalian to UCC -- we are ecumenical! I did actually write this on Thursday, but I was looking for a photo to post with it. Unfortunately, my Christmas photo album is lost somewhere in this house! I haven't looked in enough places yet, but didn't want to put this off any longer.

Now that the dreaded Black Friday has come and gone, here is a short little Meme to properly kick off the holiday season.

Name five of your favorite all time gifts. Either given or gotten.

1. Sisterknits! Our third child, by the time she was on the way there were more diagnostic tools in use, and the doctors told me she would be born on Christmas Day. Yeah, right, I said. Well, Christmas morning I was the first one up, as usual, and I realized we needed to hurry through the stockings and drop SonShineIn and Cordeliaknits off at their grandparents' house on the way to the hospital! I remember watching the repeat of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival in the labor room and bringing her home in a Christmas stocking. She is still the best Christmas present ever and will be again when she comes to visit us on the 21st. (The other two were born on Danish Day (a moveable feast) and International Children's Book Day, respectively, and they are wonderful gifts too.)

2. I'm not sure if it was my summer birthday or Christmas, but when I was 10 I received a clock radio from my parents. I felt so grown up! I could set the alarm if I needed to, and I could listen to all kinds of stations, although it was mostly WNEW for Make-Believe Ballroom Time, WNYC for Oscar Brand's folk music show and WINS (Murray the K kept me up-to-date on all the latest rock-and-roll hits). It was one of those gifts I hadn't asked for or even knew I wanted but became one of my most-used possessions.

3. Maybe 25 years ago or so, I was living in Minnesota and my winter jacket was a rather lightweight parka more suitable for, say, Connecticut. My sister-in-law The Traveler was into sewing down items from kits at the time (she made a comforter and a sleeping bag, for example) and she sewed me a down parka. Still better, she gave it to me at Thanksgiving -- and we had an extremely cold and early winter that year. I probably would have frozen to death doing my (on the bus) Christmas shopping, had she not given me the coat early! It was so warm, and lasted several years before the stuffing began to come out.

4. Onkel Hankie Pants has given me many fine presents over the years; I'm wearing one now, my deliciously warm L. L. Bean fleece bathrobe. The very best gifts, though,have been gifts of his own creation -- poems along the way and, for a Significant Birthday, even a hymn (lyrics, set to Brother James' Air).

5. I am not really sure which of the tangible gifts I have given over the years have been most appreciated by their recipients. I am proud of (and I think they appreciate) the gift that Onkel Hankie Pants and I gave our children. If you've read about the recent study on declining literacy, you will know why I am happy that our children (one is in the 18-24 bracket, the others in the 25-35) do in fact read for pleasure and information as well as the books they "have to" read. (One is in college and one in graduate school so they do have a lot of required reading as well). We both read to them from infancy on, and I'm afraid the best way for them to get our undivided attention was to ask for a story -- they also saw that we enjoyed reading and talking about books. I know there are people who've done the same and yet their children don't care to read -- I guess it's just another proof that the good giver also needs a good receiver.

I tag Cordeliaknits, Celeste, and Onkel Hankie Pants. But anyone is welcome to play!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tuneful Tuesday: Songs for Not Quite Advent

For anyone who owns as much Christmas and Advent and Chanukah music as I do, it's hard to keep from playing it all year round. But, then it wouldn't be special, so we have a rule that we can't start playing it until the day after Thanksgiving. Most years this is only a couple of days before the First Sunday of Advent, but this year is different. So this week's Tuneful Tuesday is going to be Songs for Not Quite Advent.

What is Tuneful Tuesday? That's the name I made up for what I'll be doing on Tuesdays for a while. Some people liked my Tunes for November posts (and those who didn't were nice enough to keep quiet). Tuneful Tuesdays will be much shorter; I'll limit myself to fewer than a baker's dozen of annotated songs.

The Christmas songs I've chosen deal primarily with two activities that many people are doing right now: shopping, and looking forward to traveling home for Christmas. Comments are welcomed.

1. Christmas Is Coming -- Traditional.
I have only 5 renditions of this well-known tune. Of the instrumentals, I have to give the prize to Dakota Dave Hull and Judy Larson for their unusual rendition on their album The Goose Is Getting Fat. (Onkel Hankie Pants says this is the world's best background album for a Christmas gathering.) My favorite vocal rendition is by Anne Hills and Shinobu Sato on the disc On This Day Earth Shall Ring. This is a very short song, which is probably why relatively few people record it. But it addresses the important topic of charity as well as the anticipation of Christmas dinner, and, since it's included in a lot of Mother Goose books, is one of the first Christmas songs we learn.

2. It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas --Meredith Willson.
Oddly enough, I have only three renditions of this song by the composer of The Music Man. And two of them are by Bing Crosby! There are lots and lots of Crosby Christmas compilation albums out there; the one this is on in my collection is Merry Christmas. This song is like a time capsule of an idealized '50s Christmas, with the town Christmas tree, shopping at the Five and Ten, and while both "Bonnie and Ben" can wish for Western gear, only "Janice and Jen" want dolls -- although I'm a little surprised at the "dolls that can talk and can go for a walk," as Betsy Wetsy was about the limit of my ambitions (the song was written in 1951). It's beginning to look a little like Christmas here -- some people have lights on their outdoor trees and candles in the windows. (What can I say, I live in a place where 90% of the houses are white clapboard, even though there's no ordinance requiring it, and that's what people do.) For a little more information you can go here. You can also look at this photo of a 1950s Christmas -- my brother and me in the house my parents were building, I think this was taken while my Dad was in Korea.

3. A Christmas Carol -- Tom Lehrer.
There may be someone other than the author who has recorded this, but I haven't found it. So here's my little twice-removed brush with fame: one of my oldest friends, The Left-Handed Decorator, happens to have a fair number of well-known relatives in her past. But something that impressed the rest of us in our early adolescence was that Tom Lehrer had been her father's math instructor at Harvard! Snarky little would-be intellectuals that we were, we played the Tom Lehrer albums quite a bit and could sing along with most of his satirical songs. If you are totally disgusted with the commercialization of Christmas, this song is for you:
"Hark, the Herald Tribune sings,
Advertising wondrous things;
God rest ye merry merchants,
May ye make the Yuletide pay"
always runs through my head at this time of year when I read articles on how it's our civic duty to spend, spend, spend. (Note to the young: the Herald Tribune was once the major New York competitor of the New York Times.) I believe there's a CD boxed set of all Tom Lehrer's work, but I own this one on Bah, Humbug! The Alternative Christmas Album.

I'll Be Home for Christmas -- Walter Kent, Kim Gannon, and (maybe) Buck Ram.
My father, who had his own way of remembering songs, used to sing this
"I'll be home for Christmas
In 1943."
Although the song was recorded and became a hit in that year, I've not found any evidence that this was other than his own idiosyncrasy. It's a very popular song all right -- I have 22 renditions! I won't list all of them. My favorites all share one characteristic: they include the introductory lines
"I'm dreaming tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know it's a long road back,
I promise you..."
I like me some intros! The top choice is by Neal and Leandra (really, just Leandra on this one), a Minnesota couple who have put out two really good Christmas albums, mostly original, and are favorites in my family. This song is from Listen to the Angels. They are especially favorites of Sisterknits, the only one of our children who will be home with us this year.

5. Christmas Time's A-Comin' -- Tex Logan.

Something sweet and cheerful now -- it's hard to listen to this without wanting to sing along or at least tap your foot. Oddly enough, the writer of this song has something in common with the writer of #3 -- a high level of education in a field other than music. In fact, Logan surpassed Lehrer in this respect as Tom Lehrer never completed his Ph.D. Tex Logan was an electrical engineer for Bell Labs who had a Ph.D. from either Columbia or MIT, depending on which website you believe. He was also a fine bluegrass fiddler who played with such groups as the Greenbriar Boys and the New Lost City Ramblers as well as older bluegrass musicians like Bill Monroe. This is an interesting song musically as it seems to have two choruses; the simple
Christmas time's a-comin; (3x)
And I know I'm goin' home
and the more complex
Can't you hear them bells, ringin', bringin'
Joy to all, hear them singin'
When it's snowin'
I'll be goin'
Back to my country home.
I have four recordings of this one, sadly, none by Bill Monroe, but my favorite is that by Emmylou Harris on Light from the Stable. In fact, if any song has been recorded by Emmylou Harris, it is likely to be my favorite rendition.

6. Christmas Songs -- Ann Reed.
I don't think anyone else could do this piece as well as the writer, and I don't think anyone has. It's a very funny musical rant about the omnipresent Christmas music in shopping malls and stores (and it's nearly all so generic or at least trendy-pop!) Having never worked retail, I have no standing to complain. Sisterknits, however, works at the Great Big Mall and she knows whereof Ann Reed speaks, or sings. The old style, where every store had the same Muzak, was pretty bad. But the new style is even worse for the employees -- each store seems compelled to have its own CD of Christmas music which cycles through several times per work shift. Not even shuffled! Ann Reed, like Neal and Leandra and Dakota Dave Hull and Judy Larson, is a Minnesota treasure. The album is called Not Your Average Holiday CD and is well worth getting for her fine guitar playing and inventive ways with standard songs as well as this funny one.

7. We Need a Little Christmas -- Jerry Herman.
Here's a Christmas song you're likely to hear any time of the year that the musical Mame is playing, for indeed it's from that show. If I remember rightly, things have not been going well for Auntie Mame and her nephew, and she decides they need to have Christmas early. (It doesn't appear to be that early, maybe a few days.) And every once in a while, Sisterknits and I need a little Christmas and break our rule for maybe a couple of hours or even a day. So sue us. I don't have the original Angela Lansbury recording (but you can hear and see her sing it in concert on YouTube here) so I choose Dinah Shore's version, from an EMI set called Happy Holidays.

Please Come Home for Christmas -- Charles Brown and Gene Redd.
A song for anyone who has the blues at Christmas, or remembers what it was like to feel that way. You can find the original version by Charles Brown on Billboard's Greatest Christmas Hits 1955-Present, and there are several other great versions out there, but my favorite is in Cajun French. It's the one by Belton Richard that's included on Alligator Stomp: Cajun Christmas. That's a great disk overall, unfortunately it appears to be out of print but you may be able to find a used or remaindered copy at a slight premium.

9. Santa Baby -- Joan Javits.

From my observations, you either love this song or hate it. I fall on the love side. But not sung by just anybody; it's almost got to be Eartha Kitt's original version. (It's available on the earlier Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits 1935-1954.) Until recently I wouldn't have added "almost," but then I found the London Gay Men's Chorus version on their Make the Yuletide Gay. Even though we know we shouldn't, we all fall prey at times to sheer greed, and might as well acknowledge it. As I'm making my Christmas list, I'm not asking for things like platinum mine deeds, cars or Tiffany baubles, but wanting more books, more music, more kitchen gadgets, magazine subscriptions, fine slippers...I'm no better than the singer, who's no better than she should be! And that's why we need Christmas.

10. The Compleat Nutcracker Sweet -- Petr Ilich Tchaikovskii, arranged by Philip Aaberg.

It wouldn't be Christmas without those artistic performances that everyone goes to, and that often pay the bills for the rest of the year. The Nutcracker is the only ballet most people ever see, I would guess. In case you're not seeing it this year, you can get quite a bit of the music condensed into 5 minutes and 34 seconds with this recording, found on A Windham Hill Christmas: I'll Be Home for Christmas. So far this year, I'm scheduled to attend the local ecumenical Lessons and Carols service next Sunday, if my cold doesn't get worse; and a jazz concert next week in which my ex-sister-in-law is appearing, and I don't know if that will include any holiday tunes at all. But the MPBN magazine came today with lots of good things to watch and listen to during December.

11. I'll Be Home for Lefse -- Leroy Larson and the Minnesota Scandinavian Ensemble.

Last year, this was the song that made me cry. Not that I'm not happy to be back in Maine, but after 32 years immersed in Scandinavian-American culture, well, you yust get used to it, you betcha. Although Onkel Hankie Pants' family is pure Danish, and don't make lefse, we had a friend of Norwegian extraction who used to bring lefse (rolled up around butter and sugar) for coffee hour after church during this season. I haven't learned to make them yet, but last year I did make rosettes and fattigmand for the first time (although the Danes call fattigmand, klejner.) I believe this song is original to the group, another Minnesota musical treasure. It appears the principal place to buy the album is in Iowa, though, at the Vesterheim museum in Decorah.

So, that's all for today and all the tunes for this week. By the way, I just checked. I have 4,220 items in my Christmas-Advent-Chanukah-Winter Solstice collection (though, to be fair, this includes classical music where each movement or aria is a separate track.) Is this excessive, do you think?