Friday, November 30, 2007
Thursday, November 29, 2007
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
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:
Advertising wondrous things;
God rest ye merry merchants,
May ye make the Yuletide pay"
4. 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
Even more than I usually do
And although I know it's a long road back,
I promise you..."
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
And I know I'm goin' home
Joy to all, hear them singin'
When it's snowin'
I'll be goin'
Back to my country home.
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.
8. Please Come Home for Christmas -- Charles Brown and Gene Redd.
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?
Monday, November 26, 2007
Or has it? I did have this discussion several years ago when I worked in a Lutheran church where the pastor was very knowledgeable about liturgy, the Christian year, etc. I think we decided that since Reign of Christ Sunday ends the church year, the next day really begins Advent although nothing is done in church to mark it until the following Sunday. [Note to Sisterknits and Cordeliaknits: Advent calendars still don't begin until December 1.]
This appears to be the tack my denomination has taken, or even a bit more so. The UCC's online Advent devotional began on November 23 (Black Friday or Buy Nothing Day, take your pick) and will last until Epiphany. It must have been some unreconstructed old Congregational Christian who came up with this; the Evangelical and Reformed part of our 50-year-old merger knew their church calendars a bit better than that. Nevertheless, there are some good thoughts in this devotional so far.
Tomorrow, I'll be inaugurating Tuneful Tuesday with a short list of music for this inbetween time.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Describe seven mugs that are in your kitchen cabinet. So here goes:
1. Green glass labyrinth mug from Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, bought off the Internet. Alas, when I actually got to their classy gift shop last spring, the design had changed completely. This is my favorite, I only use it when I have a new pot of fresh coffee!
2. A black "God Is Still Speaking" mug that I got from a UCC event kicking off that campaign.
3. A very bulbous, handthrown, greyish-blue pottery mug (with a matching dessert plate) that Cordeliaknits' friend Biz gave me. I wish we could see Biz this Christmas.
4. A big heavy white mug with my nickname on it in blue calligraphy (you've probably seen the popcorn bowls? that kind) that my boss at #5 gave me one Christmas -- the other two supervisees also had fairly unusual names so we each got one. Although it's nice to have an unusual name, sometimes you just want to find your name on something...so it was a good present.
5. Dark red mug that says "Hamline University School of Law" where I worked in the library for 9 years. A souvenir of the year that Am. Assoc. of Law Librarians had their convention in the Twin Cities and I helped with the opening reception.
6. Maine-made pottery mug with pink and purple tulips painted on it, a birthday present several years ago from my brother Uncle Markie Pants.
7. And one I don't use often because I don't want to break it -- a mug with a loon on it that belonged to my mother.
I tag Cordeliaknits, Celeste, and Sisterknits (if she ever blogs again!!!)
Now, I know what a human liver looks like (more or less, shapewise), or a beef liver. One might assume that a turkey liver looks similarly shaped but smaller, but of my three items, one looked like a heart (2 chambers) and the other two both looked as if they COULD be livers. So, this time, I used chicken broth for moistening the stuffing, etc. and put the turkey neck and giblets into a bag in the freezer. But tomorrow I plan to make turkey soup with the carcass and it will be Use It or Lose It time for the innards. Can anyone help?
*A friend of Cordeliaknits works in the legal department at said search place and she says this is the proper terminology. She also says the amenities are all they're cracked up to be.
Friday, November 23, 2007
1. Did you go elsewhere for the day, or did you have visitors at your place instead? How was it?
We were at our house and had visitors. My sister and cousin came for turkey and then my brother, his wife, daughter and her husband and son, my nephew's girlfriend (nephew is in Congo with his NGO), my aunt and uncle and their daughter and her two sons came for dessert.
So here's what we ate:
mixed nuts, little pickles and olives, (no shrimp cocktail as all shrimp available were farm-raised "drenched in petroleum" -- Maine shrimp season starts Dec. 1 so hope to have it at Christmas), roast Maine turkey with standard sage and onion dressing, gravy made by my cousin, mashed Maine potatoes, homemade Maine cranberry sauce, sweet potato/peach/cashew bake, carrots glazed with an orange-ginger sauce, classic green bean casserole, a mixture of buttercup squash and another kind I don't know the name of, dark orange with deep orange flesh -- with a little Maine maple syrup stirred in -- and the traditional brown-n-serve rolls. To drink we had sparkling apple-cranberry juice from the Pajaro Valley in California, not far from Monterey where Onkel Hankie Pants and I first met.
Then we cleared up and washed dishes.
When the others arrived we had: pumpkin pie (two kinds, one I made with eggs and one my niece made with no eggs); apple pie (niece); chocolate spice cake (niece); pecan pie (I made); cranberry chocolate cheesecake (Onkel H made); and for me, the piéce de resistance, butterscotch meringue pie made from scratch by my cousin. Coffee, tea, and cider. Looking at photo albums, talking, playing Set, younger people playing hide and seek. The dog behaved reasonably well (he did have to be sequestered during the actual eating of dinner).
Nobody got shot, my definition of a great family gathering!
2. Main course: If it was the turkey, the whole turkey, and nothing but the turkey, was it prepared in an unusual way? Or did you throw tradition to the winds and do something different?
It seems everybody has a different idea about the best way to cook turkey. We got a local turkey through our meat market, didn't brine it, cooked it according to directions in the book Thanksgiving 101. Unfortunately I forgot to remove the tinfoil from the breast so it was not photogenic, but delicious nonetheless. I also used my trussing needle and kitchen string with great skill.
3. Other than the meal, do you have any Thanksgiving customs that you observe every year?
Our new custom is to sing the grace I posted a couple of posts ago, which we did.
4. The day after Thanksgiving is considered a major Christmas shopping day by most US retailers. Do you go out bargain hunting and shop ‘till you drop, or do you stay indoors with the blinds closed? Or something in between?
We definitely opened the blinds as it was a beautiful sunny (read: free heat) day. But didn't go anywhere other than as necessary to walk the dog. I celebrate Buy Nothing Day and it is very relaxing.
5. Let the HOLIDAY SEASON commence! When will your Christmas decorations go up?
Sometime before December 21 when Sisterknits arrives! I noticed a few folks in the neighborhood had very tasteful, subtle decorations up -- minilights on evergreens, candles in the window kind of thing. It's such an early Thanksgiving this year that it doesn't seem like time yet. However, I did spend a few minutes on the computer making a pre-Advent music playlist -- it's mostly secular winter-type music, with a few numbers such as "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" and then some Ave Marias and "A Winter's Solstice" music themed to snow, etc.
I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving too! Leave me a comment if you don't already participate in the Friday Five.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
I found this on Cathy's blog and thought I would participate:
(Quoting): I saw a blog game on a couple of Quaker blogs (this one and this one), so I thought I'd offer a similar game with a spin on class based. It's based on an exercise developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University that I found on this Yahoo group around class on college campuses. The exercise developers hold the copyright but have given me permission to post it here and ask that if you participate in this blog game, you acknowledge their copyright. (End Quote)
So, I've bolded the ones that apply, and added some comments in italics.
* Father went to college -- after dropping out of high school and joining the National Guard, he eventually got his GED and took college courses while in the Army.
* Father finished college
* Mother went to college -- no, but grandmother had a year or two at the U. of Maine.
* Mother finished college
* Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor. -- a couple of professors, if first cousins once removed count!
* Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers -- probably, for the most part, though they were a diverse bunch.
* Had more than 50 books in your childhood home -- oh yeah. I'd say at least 50 that belonged to me and my siblings.
* Had more than 500 books in your childhood home -- very likely at certain times, but we moved a lot and had to deaccession each time.
* Were read children's books by a parent
* Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18 -- well, swimming lessons at the public beach and ballroom dancing sponsored by the PTA.
* Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18
* The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively -- I guess. I can't call any to mind just now.
* Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18 -- this was, obviously, designed for today's college students, not my generation!
* Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs* -- a generous scholarship from A Host at Last University, a 3% student loan, some help from my parents, and a work-study job, and not spending much money!
* Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs*
* Went to a private high school
* Went to summer camp
* Had a private tutor before you turned 18
* Family vacations involved staying at hotels -- just once, when we first arrived in Germany, we stayed at an inn in Bad Schwalbach for a few days.
* Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18 -- a total mixture, new, home-made, hand-me-downs and thrift store.
* Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them -- I still don't drive, but this would not have happened, believe me.
* There was original art in your house when you were a child - if you count original paintings my great-aunt and my father did. We have lots now since two of my brothers are artists.
* Had a phone in your room before you turned 18 -- the Princess phone was just coming in, but I don't think any of my "richer" friends had one, either.
* You and your family lived in a single family house -- again, sometimes yes and sometimes no, depending on the Army.
* Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home (see above) -- my parents built a little house in Maine before my father went back into the Army, and we always owned it and returned there before I finished high school.
* You had your own room as a child -- once, for a while, but I got too lonesome on the third floor of the old German townhouse and moved in with my little sister, who was my roommate till I went to college.
* Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course - Um, yeah. It was called reading.
* Had your own TV in your room in High School -- Even in college, with a rather affluent population, there were very few students who had a TV. Another generational thing.
* Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College -- IRAs didn't exist. Not sure about mutual funds, but not for me anyway.
* Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16 -- yes, courtesy of the New Haven Register, which paid for my trip to Washington to be in the National Spelling Bee. Of course we flew Military Air Transport Service to Germany and back twice.
* Went on a cruise with your family -- I suppose a Rhine River cruise doesn't count, as one didn't sleep on board. It was fun though.
* Went on more than one cruise with your family
* Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up -- I recall some sight-seeing on our first tour in Germany, but mostly, it was school field trips that provided this experience.
* You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family -- I don't recall it ever being an issue.
*These two are edited because Christine pointed out that the previous wording didn't clearly delineate between people who had their tuition paid for them and people who worked for their college expenses.
If you post this in your blog, please leave a comment on this post.
Note to relatives, and you know who you are: please leave comments on the blog instead of emailing me directly, because it's more fun for me to get comments! You can be "anonymous".
Monday, November 19, 2007
This Sunday our local paper ran a feature in which several Mainers reminisced about disastrous Thanksgiving dinners in their pasts -- the sort of thing that's very funny in retrospect but at the time -- not so much. I'm not sure whether my favorite was the one where the grandma broke the chandelier, sending shards of glass into every bit of the dinner, or the story about the college boys who tried cooking their turkey in beer. However, the article brought to mind a semi-disastrous Thanksgiving dinner in my childhood.
As far back as I can remember, our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners began with shrimp cocktail. Now, it's true that my father grew up "on the shore."
Daddy, pontificating: "Yes, Knickers, your mother's people were all farmers, but your Father's people were fisherfolk."
Mama, with perfect timing: "SIMPLE fisherfolk."]
At Thanksgiving of 1957, we were about to leave Wiesbaden, Germany, for my father's new assignment in Connecticut. We weren't leaving until early December, but our household goods had already been packed and sent on ahead, including the more specialized pots and pans. So my parents decided we would have Thanksgiving dinner in the unit's mess hall. On the day, my parents herded the five of us, ranging from 9 down to 3 1/2 years old, into the hall and we sat down with the soldiers to await the feast. The first course arrived, shrimp cocktail, as expected. But there was something strange, and we were quickly warned by our parents not to eat the shrimp.
Evidently, the mess sergeant had assigned his rawest recruit to prepare the shrimp cocktail, one of the simplest dishes on the menu. And evidently, said recruit was from Kansas, or some other inland state. He did know that people eat clams and oysters raw, and must have thought one kind of seafood was much like another. Instead of the lovely, firm, pink shrimp we had been expecting, there before us sat, artfully arranged around the goblets of cocktail sauce, grey, translucent, raw shrimp. I hope they collected the shrimp and cooked them later, but I don't know. It was certainly an odd beginning to an otherwise good dinner. We never ate Thanksgiving dinner in the mess hall again, but for many years afterwards, as I helped my father taste-test the cocktail sauce, we would remember the infamous raw shrimp cocktail.
Here is a picture of my mother, many years later (perhaps in the early 1980s as it is a Polaroid photo) with two tables set for a family Thanksgiving. By this time I was living "in exile" in City of Lakes and going to Onkel Hankie Pants' parents' home for Thanksgiving. No shrimp cocktail, just green bean casserole, but good.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
25. All People That On Earth Do Dwell -- The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge -- A Vaughan Williams Hymnal. This verse and tune for Psalm 100 (hence its name "Old Hundredth") may well have been sung by the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony. (Although not in this arrangement by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with organ music!) William Kethe, to whom the words are attributed, was a Scots clergyman who lived in Geneva, Switzerland and helped translate the Geneva Bible, the Bible used by the Pilgrims (Separatists). The Anglo-Genevan Psalter of 1561 includes 20 of his hymns. The tune, by Louis Bourgeois, is often used for "THE" Doxology, the song many Protestants sing upon the receipt of the offering. Of course a Doxology is "a short hymn of praise to God" and can take many forms. In my current church we sing one to the tune Duke Street. But if someone says "Let's sing the Doxology" (as we often did as a grace before meals in Onkel Hankie Pants' parents' home) this is the tune they will be thinking of.
26. Better Than Blessed -- Louise Davis -- Malaco's Greatest Gospel Hits, Vol. 1. Well, when you've got a good sermon illustration, it's hard to use it just once. This song also references the "no shoes/no feet" story alluded to in Just Look at the Blessings. The singer says, "Many times I had to learn my lessons, For I did not always appreciate my blessings." I can relate to that.
27. Bless This House -- Bryn Terfel -- Simple Gifts and Perry Como -- Christmas Songs. I'm not sure if I'm remembering this correctly, but I think I remember my late mother-in-law telling me that a cousin sang this song at her and my father-in-law's wedding. It certainly could have been, since it was written in 1927; the only thing that raises a doubt in my mind is that their wedding was conducted in Danish. Perry Como was one of Mom's favorite singers, and this song is very much associated with him; I think he sang it every year around this time on his TV shows and specials. I'll have to include his version as well, but I just can't resist Bryn Terfel. (You can probably tell that I like baritones better than tenors, though I can appreciate tenors. I like mezzos and contraltos better than sopranos, too.)
28. Dayenu (Diana) -- Michael S. McCown and the New England Conservatory Chorus -- A Taste of Passover. Passover? But I thought that was in springtime? I hear you asking. But Dayenu, one of the songs traditionally sung at the Passover Seder, is definitely an anthem of gratitude. "Dayenu" means "It would have been enough" and the song traditionally goes on for 15 stanzas starting with "If he had brought us out of Egypt...it would have been enough" and ending with the gifts of Shabbat, Mount Sinai, the Torah, the Land of Israel, and the Temple. It's a statement of God's extravagant love if ever there was one. In this recording, Paul Anka's tune Diana ("I'm so young and you're so old, This my darling I've been told") is used, with a little bit of Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow thrown in for good measure. It's a delicious bit of reverent irreverence. It reminds me to be thankful for my years at A Host at Last University, where I may not have made the most of all my opportunities, but where I did learn a respect and love for the culture and ethics of the Jewish people.
29. It Is Well With My Soul -- Antrim Mennonite Choir -- Amazing Grace. This is one of those hymns that was written after the hymnodist experienced a horrific loss. You can read the story here. It also brings to mind a very good book that you should read if you haven't, Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. The title of the book comes from this hymn, and not from the church camp song I've Got Peace Like a River (though that is a fine song too, in its way.) Since I grumbled about the New Century Hymnal a couple of days ago, I should in all fairness praise it for including many more of this type of hymn (Sweet Hour of Prayer would be another example) than we had in the Pilgrim Hymnal. And finally I should tell a little story about how I got this recording. When Cordeliaknits was in college, preparing for seminary, working as a chapel intern, one day she was out shopping in Women's College Town with a Chocolate Shop on Every Block, when she was approached by some missionaries (presumably Mennonite, but I'm not sure). They pressed upon her a copy of the Gospel of John and this very nice CD of hymns. I got the CD for Christmas. I hope neither of us will burn in hell for taking it under false pretenses. College students do what they gotta do; one year when I was in college, my family all got books for Christmas, review copies I had scored as an editor of the student newspaper. Things don't change much.
30. The Harvest Home Suite: Autumn (Thanksgiving Hymn) -- Jay Ungar -- Harvest Home. Taking off from We Gather Together, Jay Ungar of Ashokan Farewell fame crafts a beautiful piece of music. The lower line evokes a melancholy autumnal feel, while the higher one expresses joy in the harvest. At least that's what I think. You may have noticed that I mostly talk about lyrics. That's because I don't really have a vocabulary to talk about the music, not because I don't appreciate it (I'm just not a trained appreciator!)
31. Danish Table Grace/I Jesu Navn Går Vi Til Bord -- Grand View College Singers -- Songs of Denmark: Songs to Live By. This was probably the table grace used most often in my in-laws' home, at least during the years I was privileged to visit there. The English words we used were not a direct translation, but are:
In Jesus' name we come, O Lord,
Again to this, our humble board,
Accept our thanks, in word and deed,
For daily bread and all we need. Amen.
The tune is (to my ears at least) the same as the Danish Christmas carol, Det Kimer Nu til Julefest (The Happy Christmas Comes Once More.) It reminds me of how thankful I am that, through marriage, I was able to "culturally appropriate" the richness of the Danish Grundtvigian tradition of my husband's family and their extended community, and that this community welcomed me so warmly and continues to be an important part of our lives and those of our children. It's a lot more than just æbleskiver and frikadeller!
32. Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep) -- Rosemary Clooney -- White Christmas. Also by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Peace Like a River, and Diana Krall, Christmas Songs. This song by Irving Berlin doesn't really say anything about Christmas, but since it was written for the movie White Christmas, it is featured on a number of Christmas albums. Rosemary Clooney was also part of the soundtrack of my childhood in the 1950s. There's also a fine old gospel hymn called Count Your Blessings -- if you don't know it, you can read the words and hear a MIDI rendition of the tune here. Oddly enough, in church today we heard a sermon with some of my own ambivalence about counting blessings as mentioned in a previous post. I still like the songs, though.
33. De Colores -- Baldemar Velasquez and Aguila Negra -- Classic Labor Songs from Smithsonian Folkways. De Colores, a Mexican folksong said by some to have been brought from Spain as early as the 16th century, is a song that has been used as an anthem by Cursillo and other Christian retreats, is in the New Century Hymnal, and which I first heard as a children's song on a Raffi album when my children were small. But I chose this version for inclusion here because of its association as the unofficial anthem of the United Farm Workers (UFW), César Chavez' organization, as well as for its beautiful words and music. The United Farm Workers and their grape boycott, for many in my generation, were probably one of the first promptings to us to think about the food we eat and where it comes from. Sure, we had sung the Woody Guthrie songs and read Doris Gates' Blue Willow as children or Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath a bit later. I suspect many of us in urban or suburban settings thought that was all in the past, and then Chavez opened our eyes. Many years later, we are thinking about eating locally, buying fair-trade, shade-grown, bird-friendly coffee, and otherwise interesting ourselves in a more sustainable lifestyle. This Thanksgiving, let's honor those who grow our food, those who harvest our food, and those who transport our food.
And now for two songs that I don't have in a recorded format -- in fact to the best of my knowledge they don't exist in recorded form. That's because they were both written (the lyrics) by Onkel Hankie Pants. The first is a Thanksgiving hymn he wrote to be used in church some years ago.
Join Hands, You Fearful Pilgrims
Psalm 46 Aurelia 76.76 D (“The Church’s One Foundation”)
Join hands you fearful pilgrims,
Embarking on this ship;
We face a roaring ocean,
A spirit-testing trip.
May Jacob’s God protect us
On this deep, troubled sea
That swells against the mountains
Of faith and piety.
We go to build God’s city
Amid the wilderness;
Through it will flow a river
With streams of righteousness.
And we will know each morning
The comfort of God’s might,
Which guards us like a rampart
From tempters in the night.
We go to found a new world;
Old kingdoms melt before
God’s holy flame, advancing
To burn the tools of war.
The sinful earth will tremble
At God’s consuming voice;
And in the peace that follows
God’s Saints will all rejoice.
Be steady, then, you pilgrims,
The Lord of Hosts is here;
God is our lofty tower,
Our refuge when we fear
The raging storms around us,
The tempests deep inside,
For God is God, exalted -
In God we will abide.
Copyright H. C. Strandskov
Anyone reading this who has authority to choose hymns for a church service may use this freely provided the copyright notice is printed and you let us know when and where it was used.
The second is a newer song written just last year as a Thanksgiving grace to be sung at our table; it can be used any time of the year. As Onkel Hankie Pants wrote on the Hymn Society website, the tune is a familiar one: Silver Bells by Livingston and Evans, from the movie The Lemon-Drop Kid. (My Christmas music collection has 20 renditions of this song, so I'm sure you know it.) Here it is:
FOOD ABUNDANT (a sung table grace for festal meals)
Text: H. C. Strandskov, 2006
Tune: Silver Bells
(Here�s a table grace to sing for Thanksgiving dinner, the Christmas Eve meal, or Christmas dinner. Everyone should know the tune, but it would be especially fun if someone can accompany on a piano or keyboard. If you try it, send me an email and let me know how it went and what the occasion was.)
Food abundant, festive table, fellowship's healing warmth:
Here we gather to savor God's goodness.
Bless the sunlight, bless the rainfall, bless this bountiful earth -
And for this joyous feast we will sing:
'We give thanks, thanks for food,
Thanks for our families and friendships;
We give thanks, thanks to God,
Thanks for the gifts of our world.'
I'm thankful to have a poet in the house, and for poets and songwriters everywhere and in every time.
Friday, November 16, 2007
13. Turning Toward the Morning -- Gordon Bok, Ed Trickett, Ann Mayo Muir -- Keepers 2 and The First Fifteen Years. This is a good song for November, when the world seems to be getting darker each day, especially here on the eastern edge of the Eastern Time Zone. Hunker down, get through the winter because "The world is always turning toward the morning."
14. The Thanksgiving Song -- Fred Holstein -- A Tribute to Steve Goodman. The song was written by Bob Franke as Thanksgiving Eve and has been recorded by him and possibly others. "What can you do with each moment of your life, But love till you've loved it away."
15. Thanksgiving -- George Winston -- Thanksgiving. Another nice instrumental for a little meditation time.
16. Day by Day -- The Joslin Grove Choral Society -- 100 Best Loved Hymns. No, this is not the one from Godspell. Not being Swedish, I only heard it for the first time a few years ago when I worked at an erstwhile-Swedish Lutheran church. It was written in the 19th century by Lina Sandell Berg, a Swedish pietist hymnwriter perhaps best known for Children of the Heavenly Father. (And if you aren't from the Midwest or Scandinavian, you may not even know that one.) There is a very good retranslation by Gracia Grindal in one of the newer Lutheran hymnals. Berg's point is that we should be grateful for what seems bad in our lives as well as what seems good, that God gives us toil, pain and sorrow as well as rest, peace and joy, and it is all for our good. It reminds me of a poem I learned in German class in high school, by Eduard Mörike (he was born in Ludwigsburg, where that particular one of my three high schools was located). You can read the poem and a translation here.
17. Thank God for Mama -- Fantastic Violinaires -- Malaco's Greatest Gospel Hits, Vol. 1.
Here's mine, in her garden in 1982. She's been gone for 20 years now and I still miss her. I know some people have or had much more complicated relationships with their mothers, and maybe this song would not resonate the same way for everyone. I'm thankful that I had this mother, and as the song says, "I hope that I'll see her in heaven some sweet day."
18. Bringing in the Sheaves -- Mountain Singers Male Quartet -- How Can I Keep From Singing? Vol. 1.
At my old church in City of Lakes, we had an informal service on Thanksgiving morning. We always sang this song (which is not in either of our hymnals). Nobody around here has a service on Thanksgiving morning, so I'll have to sing along with these guys. There's lots of good harvest imagery. This is another one that I need two versions of -- the other is by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Ol' Ern' was a big star in my childhood; I think he had a TV show and always signed off "Bless your little pea-pickin' hearts." And Amen to that!
19. Now Be Thankful -- Fairport Convention -- Meet on the Ledge: The Classic Years (1967-1975). Although I had certainly been aware of Fairport Convention back in the day, I wasn't a huge fan at the time. I bought this album for their recording of Matty Groves when I was reading Deborah Grabien's wonderful "woo-woo" mystery of the same name, based on the Child ballad. I was really pleased to discover this song, which expresses thankfulness in a more modern idiom -- "for the rose, the red rose blooms for all to know."
20. Magnificat (Canon) -- Taizé Community -- Alleluia! You may think this is looking ahead a week or so after Thanksgiving to Advent, since it is the song of Mary at the Annunciation. But when you look at the words, it is definitely a song of thanksgiving and also one that has lessons for us at this time -- "He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away." Don't forget to donate to your local food shelf or soup kitchen! I love the great canon singing by this community, too.
21. Look at the Blessings -- Willie Banks and the Messengers -- Malaco's Greatest Gospel Hits, Vol. 1.
From 4th through 7th grade, I attended a little Sunday school in the local fire station in Milford, Connecticut. An elderly couple had made this their mission, and with the help of a few other volunteer teachers and a student from nearby Yale Divinity School, they provided a Protestant religious education for kids on the outskirts of a town where all the churches were still downtown. We'd have a little service first (I even got to sing in the choir!) and then separate into classes. Sometimes the old gentleman preached the little homily, and one of his favorite sayings was "I wept because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet." (My kids have heard that one more times than they want to count -- usually as we were passing some expensive shoe store!) Now, I don't think this is really the greatest theology. Yes, we are grateful for what we have, but do we have to compare our fortunes to those who have less? And who is to say that the man with no feet isn't feeling sorry for us, that we are placing so much emphasis on inessentials? (But maybe that's what was meant? This exegesis is rough stuff!) Anyway, this Great Gospel Hit seems to reference that very same story. I also have a soft spot for that sort of song where the singer stops and talks for part of the time (the Ink Spots did that a lot).
22. How Can I Keep from Singing? -- Gordon Bok, Ed Trickett, Ann Mayo Muir -- The First Fifteen Years, Vol. 1. I first heard this song when I was in college, sung by Pete Seeger, I believe. In recent years it's gone back to its roots in the church and appears in several hymnals. It's been sung at at least one funeral I've attended. It's hard to listen to without singing along and feeling uplifted.
23. Uncle Dave's Grace -- Anne Hills, Cindy Mangsen, and Priscilla Herdman -- At the Turning of the Year. A little comic relief -- or is it? "Thanksgiving Day Uncle Dave was our guest, He reads The Progressive which makes him depressed." Uncle Dave points out all the unsustainable features of our Thanksgiving feast, from the mahogany table to the turkey to the very clothes on our backs. What to do? Well, we can try to buy locally or fair-traded food, clothing and furnishings, and recycle a lot. Still, it's a pretty funny song. Written by Lou and Peter Berryman, of Madison, WI.
24. Great Is Thy Faithfulness -- St. Olaf Choir -- Great Hymns of Faith. This has been one of my favorite hymns for a while now. The line "Morning by morning new mercies I see" says it perfectly (of course, the Psalmist said it first.) All we have to do is look! Although Onkel Hankie Pants went to the Other College in Northfield, Minnesota, I think even he would agree that the St. Olaf Choir (or choirs, to be exact) is a national treasure. My first years in Minnesota we lived in the southern part of the state and our public radio station was the late, lamented WCAL out of St. Olaf. I'd never heard of St. Olaf before I arrived in Minnesota but quickly grew to appreciate their contributions to choral music. If your public radio station carries it (or if it's broadcast on PBS) don't miss their annual Christmas concert.
So, more tomorrow....
1. Many and Great, O Lord, Are Your Works - The University of Notre Dame Folk Choir -- Crossroads of Praise. This is one translation of The Dakota Hymn (Wakantanka taku nitawa tankaya qaota) -- Dakota words and tune translated by Joseph Renville, a Minnesota missionary. This hymn is said to have been sung by the 38 Dakota executed on December 26, 1862 in Mankato, Minnesota after the "Sioux Uprising" earlier that year. In the last 20 years, there has been a lot of effort at healing relationships between white Minnesotans and the Dakota (as well as the Ojibwe) and this hymn is often sung at gatherings promoting such healing. It's good to remember the American Indian at this time of year. I like this hymn so much that it is on my playlist twice, the second time in a recording by the Holy Trinity Bach Choir from Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in New York City called With One Voice: Joining Hearts and Voices and available from Augsburg Fortress Press. Not to take away from the musicianship of either group, but I'm not quite satisfied with their renditions. I'd like to hear it sung by a small congregation accompanied only on drum.
2. For the Beauty of the Earth - Bread for the Journey -- Global Songs, Local Voices. The familiar hymn (I swear we sang it once a month in my former church) to a different, Asian tune, sung by a Twin Cities-based group who do a lot of great multicultural, peace and justice-themed music. One of many songs in this list that is itself a list of things to be thankful for.
3. Come, Ye Thankful People, Come -- Joyfull Strings -- Celtic Hymns. A hammer dulcimer duo from Nevada City, CA plays the Thanksgiving hymn I've got to have every year. I like the imagery of the soul as grain: "First the grain and then the ear, Then the full corn doth appear, Oh, Our Father, grant that we Wholesome grain and pure may be." A choral version is also on my list, performed by the Festival Chorus and Hosanna Singers on a disc called 50 Church Classics.
4. All Things Bright and Beautiful -- The Mormon Tabernacle Choir -- Peace Like a River. Another one of those "list" songs, and it's by Frances Alexander (who also wrote Once in Royal David's City). This is not the tune that's in most hymnals, but a newer one by John Rutter. (And, will someone who knows something about music tell me why I can instantly recognize something by John Rutter even if I haven't heard it before?)
5. Over the River and Through the Woods -- 52 Key French Gasparini Carousel Organ -- Gypsy Queen. Now, you've got to have this on any Thanksgiving playlist, but it's hard to find one that's not (a) sung by a bunch of reedy little children's voices and (b) changes "For it is Thanksgiving Day" to "For it is Christmas Day." Back in 1844 when Lydia Maria Child wrote the words, it was still Thanksgiving, not Christmas, that was the big winter holiday in New England. The carousel organ is a lot of fun to listen to, and you can find the words here.
6. This Is My Father's World -- The Mormon Tabernacle Choir -- Peace Like a River. In the New Century Hymnal there are more inclusive words to this, but I can't seem to remember them. My wish is that there will come a time when we can sing some of these old songs, and some new songs about God the Mother, and everyone will be OK with all of them. This may not happen in my lifetime. The thing I do object to is that the new version took out "the music of the spheres." Yes, I know the earth is more or less elliptical and that the stars, being made of burning gas, are not exactly spheres. But the image of the stars, moons and planets all singing and making music together is a powerful one that should not be lost to scientific correctness. (End of rant.)
7. Simple Gifts -- The Armstrong Family -- The Wheel of the Year. A good reminder from the Shakers that not all gifts (things to be thankful for) are tangible. Apparently, the Armstrongs often sang on Studs Terkel's radio show in Chicago, and as far as I can discern, this is their only recording. I wish there were more.
8. What a Wonderful World -- Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong -- All-Time Greatest Hits. I've heard a story that Armstrong really didn't want to record this -- it was one of those "B-sides" that becomes a bigger hit than anyone could imagine. The line "I hear babies cry, I watch them grow, They'll learn much more Than I'll ever know" has a special resonance as we have just welcomed another grand-nephew into the family. What will his world be like 60 years from now? I hope the things he'll learn will be good ones.
9. Now Thank We All Our God -- Huddersfield Choral Society -- The Hymns Album. Love those British choral societies! This is a classic hymn of thanksgiving that is sung all year round, whenever the person choosing the hymns feels we have something to be especially thankful for. It's a good rousing recessional. May we soon have "blessed peace to cheer us."
10. Blessings -- Liz Story -- Thanksgiving. Yes folks, my eclectic tastes extend even unto New Age instrumental arrangements and meditations. This one is good for letting the words inside speak for themselves -- a useful corrective for me as I tend to get too caught up in the felicitous phrasing of others.
11. Wondrous Love -- Chanticleer -- Wondrous Love: A World Folk Song Collection. Love is a wondrous thing, and something we should all be thankful for, no matter whence it comes. If you are not of the Trinitarian Christian persuasion, there is a version in the Unitarian Universalist hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, without the Fall-Redemption theology.
12. We Gather Together -- The Dale Warland Singers -- Harvest Home. Despite the warlike and triumphalist words, this hymn means Thanksgiving to a lot of people. I'm more used to singing an updated version of "We Praise Thee, O God, Our Redeemer, Creator." I think the most important words in this hymn are the first three. For many people, Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday because it is largely about gathering together with those we love.
I have not been entirely idle. I'm working on a brief biography of my father (for the grandchildren, etc.) and, using his service records, have been in touch with people from units he served with in Japan and Korea during the Korean War. I've also been scanning photos for this purpose. Going much farther back on the family history front, I heard from a distant cousin in the Hopps line (John Hopps was one of my maternal grandmother's ancestors, a Loyalist originally from New York State who wound up in New Brunswick, Canada) and have been tidying up my reports to share with him.
Last year I did a special Advent project for Sisterknits. I recorded a story for each night of Advent onto my computer and then transferred them onto CDs for her. (I use a program called TotalRecorder and a headset microphone that plugs into a USB port; TotalRecorder can also record Internet transmissions.) This year I am looking a bit farther afield for stories, as I used up many of the "old favorites" last year. I rediscovered the Short Story Index at the library and have been interlibrary borrowing a lot. Of course, I have to read the stories to see whether they are any good, or good for reading aloud.
Another project has been to start reading all the Edgar Award winners for Best Novel, starting with 1954 (the first year Mystery Writers of America gave this particular award). I'm about up to 1960 now and am starting to like them better. It seemed as though the first few were chosen because they weren't, in most senses, traditional mysteries. Even the Raymond Chandler The Long Goodbye, the second winner, was quite long and philosophical for a hard-boiled detective novel. This project, too, has found me requesting books from other libraries quite frequently.
Tonight I'll be going to Ancestral Hometown by the Sea for a performance of a one-act mystery in which Onkel Hankie Pants is playing somebody named Kramer who wears a suit and a hat. (I'm making sure not to have any spoilers by not looking at the script!) It's a sort of Readers' Theatre thing -- no sets, etc. But we get free pie and coffee afterwards! He's also in rehearsals for THE FANTASTICKS which will come off in the New Year. From El Gallo to Hucklebee in only 34 years! Tomorrow I'll be helping at the Halls of Holly Fair at Big Taupe Church. It's church fair season again and I'll be looking for gifts -- and relish! Onkel Hankie Pants has discovered the joys of homemade relish (he puts it in his tuna salad, for one) and now that the Farmers' Market has closed for the season the church fairs are our best source. I am wishing I would find some of the ones with wonderful names that my grandmother used to make : Pottsfield, Piccalilli and Chow-Chow!