Friday, February 29, 2008

Friday Five: Leap Year Edition

Over at RevGalBlogPals, will smama and Songbird remind us:

It's Leap Day!! Whether you're one of the special few who have a birthday only once every four years, or simply confused by the extra day on the calendar, everyone is welcome to join in and play our Leap Year Friday Five.

Tell us about a time you:

1. Leapt before looked
When didn't I? I tend to make decisions immediately or not at all. I decided to apply to A Host at Last University after seeing an article in the Saturday Review showing Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorraine Hansberry (separately) talking with students. When the recruiter came to see my sister, I decided to join the Army on the promise of language school in California. And if you go back to last June's posts you can see that I made another important decision pretty fast too. They've all worked out well.

2. Leapt to a conclusion
Like many other respondents, I do this far too often to come up with just one instance.

3. Took a Leap of Faith
Sorry, I can't really come up with anything dramatic here.

4. Took a literal Leap
I don't do leaping physically.

5. And finally, what might you be faced with leaping in the coming year?
It's hard to say at this point. I will be leaping into my seventh decade this summer, and there may be ramifications of that. Check back later this year!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Five: Heaven

Singing Owl at RevGalBlogPals writes:

"I am in Seattle assisting with family stuff and preparing to attend a memorial service (Saturday) for my sister who died of complications of early-onset Alzheimer's disease.
I am not grieving much, since the shock and tears and goodbyes and losses have been many and have occurred for a long time now. I am mostly relieved that my wonderful sister and best friend is free from pain and confusion, and I am thinking of eternity. That sounds somber, but I don't mean it to be. I decided to have a little fun with the idea. So how about we share five "heavenly" things? These can be serious or funny or a combination of the two."

What is your idea of a heavenly (i.e. wonderful and perfect):

1. Family get-together
It would need to last at least a week per "side" of the family, so I would really have some time to talk with people individually or in small groups. I enjoy having everyone together, but it's hard on introverts.

2. Song or musical piece
Once, Anonymous 4 was singing at the Basilica in Minneapolis on a Saturday evening. I decided to go to the Saturday Mass so I could get a good seat, and I got there early. So I got to hear them (and see them) wandering about the chancel, vocalizing and testing the acoustics. The music later was wonderful, but sitting in the almost-empty and visually rich Basilica sanctuary listening to Anonymous 4 was heavenly.

3. Gift
Something homemade or very personal, like artwork or an old family photograph.

4. You choose whatever you like-food, pair of shoes, vacation, house, or something else. Just tell us what it is and what a heavenly version of it would be.
A heavenly pair of shoes -- would be one that fit perfectly, never wore out or got stinky, and would change colors and styles according to need.

5. And for a serious moment, or what would you like your entrance into the next life to be like?
What, from your vantage point now, would make Heaven "heavenly?" Well, of course I'd like trumpets. (But I don't expect them.) I've generally thought it would be presumptuous of me to think too much about heaven (after all, as the song says, "Everybody talkin' 'bout Heaven ain't goin' there"). But of late years, even though it's not strictly Scriptural, I do hope to be reunited with loved ones in some way.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tuneful Tuesday: It Came to Me in a Dream

This morning I woke up with a song running through my head:
...For dreams are just like wine
And I am drunk with mine.
I'm aware
My heart is a sad affair,
There's much disillusion there,
But I can dream, can't I?
Can't I adore you
Although we are oceans apart,
I can't make you open your heart,
But I can dream, can't I?
Although I have three recordings of this song, I hadn't listened to it for quite a while. I puzzled for a while about why it should have come into my head. Finally I decided that it was because, when I went to bed last night, I was in the middle of A False Mirror by Charles Todd. It's one of a mystery series set just after World War I, featuring a police detective who is haunted, literally, by his experiences in the trenches. In this book, there is a major character whose life is complicated by an unrequited love as in the song.

At any rate, that got me thinking about songs featuring dreams, so here are a few favorites in different genres.

1. I Can Dream, Can't I? -- Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal -- 1938.
Fain and Kahal wrote several songs for a musical called Right This Way which ran for only 10 days in early 1938. But two of the songs from that musical became classic standards -- "I'll Be Seeing You" and this one. Tommy Dorsey recorded it for a hit in 1938, and in 1946, the Gordon Jenkins Orchestra, with the Andrews Sisters, had an even bigger hit. In 1969 it was recorded by Mama Cass Elliott and in 1975, by the Carpenters. My personal favorite recording is by Bobby Short and appears on his album Late Night at the Cafe Carlyle.

2. All I Have to Do Is Dream -- Felice and Boudleaux Bryant -- 1958.
There were plenty of songs about dreams in the 1950s rock'n'roll scene, but the quintessential one, appearing on several Best Songs of All Time lists, is this one, a hit for the Everly Brothers in 1959. "Only trouble is, Gee whiz, I'm dreamin' my life away." Several other people have recorded this song, and who can blame them, as I can't resist singing along whenever I hear it -- but I don't know who could possibly do better than Don and Phil's rendition. You can find lots of videos of them on YouTube, but seriously, you need to have their Greatest Hits CD.

3. Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart -- George Croly (words) and Frederick C. Atkinson (music) -- 1854/1870.
Did you think you were going to get out of here without a Sacred Song? Think again! The Cyberhymnal lets you search hymns by keyword but I didn't need to search for this one. We sang it quite a bit at my old church and I've always loved this verse:
I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But take the dimness of my soul away.

George Croly, the Anglican clergyman who wrote this, doesn't really sound like my kind of guy according to some of the biographies out there (he was firmly opposed to any form of liberalism, for example). But this verse has always touched me. Recently the RevGalBlogPals read and discussed the book Listening for God by Renita Weems. Rev. Weems was brought up in a Pentecostal tradition, where ecstatic experiences are sought and expected. The book tells of how she deals with a period of spiritual dryness. I had a hard time relating to her concerns, mostly because I've never had the kind of mountaintop experience she seemed to be missing (and probably wouldn't know what to do with it if I did have one!) About the most I hope for is just what Croly asks: Take the dimness of my soul away. I couldn't actually find a recording I liked that had the verse I wanted. But it's in both the New Century Hymnal and the Pilgrim Hymnal, and probably quite a few more. The tune is called Morecambe.

4. Devil's Dream -- Traditional -- Date unknown.
And now for something completely different, both in musical genre and perhaps in spiritual connotation! Most sources agree that this is an Irish reel, and you will probably recognize it when you hear it even if you didn't know its name. Like the classical piece, Devil's Trill Sonata by Tartini, this piece appears to be technically demanding for both the fiddler and banjo player (it's often done by bluegrass groups). I downloaded two versions, one by Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys with banjo and other instruments as well as the fiddle, and one by the French-Canadian fiddler Jean Carignan. But here's a fiddler/guitarist on YouTube doing a very nice job with it.

5. When I Grow Too Old to Dream -- Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II -- 1934.
A few years ago, Sisterknits had the opportunity to hear Dave Brubeck at the University of Minnesota. She brought me back a souvenir in the form of a CD called Private Brubeck Remembers. In it, Brubeck takes us on a musical journey through his experience of World War II by playing songs that had meaning for him then and now. One of them is this one:
So kiss me, my sweet,
And then let us part.
And when I grow too old to dream,
That kiss will live in my heart.
The song was written in 1934 for the film The Night Is Young, an operetta set in Vienna. It's a beautiful, wistful waltz, evoking a time when lovers were too often parted. Do try to get hold of Brubeck's version, but if you can't, here is one that's a bit different. Look beyond the guitarist's unfortunate choice of attire and just enjoy the music:

6. Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream -- Ed McCurdy -- 1950.
In 1950, just a few years after World War II, just as the United Nations was getting going, Ed McCurdy wrote this song. I don't know whether he wrote it before or after June 25, when hostilities broke out in Korea. As the years went on, more and more people sang and recorded this song, but the dream sometimes seems further away than ever. My recording of this is by The Weavers, but I found a nice video of a man playing and singing it in his living room.
If you want something really interesting, check the "related videos" box for the one with Pete Seeger, Theodore Bikel, and Palestinian poet Rashid Hussain. Mr. Hussain doesn't seem to be much of a musician, but I think he really is singing along.

What are your favorite songs about dreams? Leave a comment if you have one.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Something Fun

I found this one on one of our new RevGalBlogPal's blogs --

1. YOUR ROCK STAR NAME (first pet, current car): Penguin Chrysler [sounds more like a whole band to me]
2. YOUR GANGSTA NAME (fave ice cream flavor, favorite type of shoe): Coffee Wicked Good Moccasin
3. YOUR NATIVE AMERICAN NAME (favorite color, favorite animal): Blue Calico Cat
4. YOUR SOAP OPERA NAME (middle name, city where you were born): Andrea Gardiner
5. YOUR STAR WARS NAME (the first three letters of your last name, first two of your first name): STRNI
6. SUPERHERO NAME (2nd favorite color, favorite drink): Red Drambuie
7. NASCAR NAME (the first names of your grandfathers): Stephen Caesar
8. STRIPPER NAME ( the name of your favorite perfume/cologne/scent, favorite candy): Shalimar Needham
9. TV WEATHER ANCHOR NAME (your fifth grade teacher’s last name, a major city that starts with the same letter): Lehman Louisville
10. SPY NAME (your favorite season/holiday, flower): Christmas Daffodil
11. CARTOON NAME (favorite fruit, article of clothing you’re wearing right now): Blueberry Turtleneck
12. HIPPIE NAME (What you ate for breakfast, your favorite tree): Bismarck Birch

President's Day Meme

Songbird posted this meme for Presidents' Day -- a good thing as I have no better ideas for today's posting.

1. Can you name the American Presidents we are honoring? Bonus: Any idea when their real birthdays are? (Don't look it up.)

George Washington, born February 22, 1731/2 (O.S.) in Virginia.

Abraham Lincoln, born February 12, 1809 in Kentucky.

2. Why do you suppose car sales are an important aspect of our President's Day observations in the U.S.? (Feel free to be whimsical.)

I can't think of anything whimsical. I would guess that since the new models have been out for a while by now, dealers are looking to get rid of some of them, and also, it's a day off for some people so that the family can shop for a car together.

3. Have you ever been President of a club or organization? How did that feel?

No, but I have been Moderator of my church. It was not an extremely powerful position, as the church was really run by the five committees, and the Council met infrequently. But I got to help plan the church's 90th anniversary celebration. It was a good experience for me. Also, I was Co-Editor-in-Chief of my college newspaper for a semester. That was fun too, in spite of some friction with the other co-editor.

4. If you could have dinner with any President of the United States no longer living, who would it be? Any particular questions you would like to ask? (Please feel free to substitute a nationally appropriate elected leader, such as a Prime Minister.)

I think, based on reading Merle Miller's Plain Speaking, that I would like to dine with Harry S Truman. He was President when I was born. I'd mostly like to dine with him because he was well-read and seemed to be an interesting conversationalist, and maybe a little less of an egotist than many of the others. However, a question did come up in my mind recently, the answer to which may be written somewhere, but I don't know: When he agreed to join FDR on the ticket in 1944, could he tell that he would probably end up becoming President when FDR died? I would think FDR's declining health might have been evident, and Truman was very much a realist. So I suspect he did. But I wonder.

5. On a more serious note, what are the qualities you hope for in our next President? (As above for those who live in other countries.)

The intelligence of Jefferson, the humility of Lincoln, the genius for dealing with Congress of Lyndon Johnson at his best, the integrity of Washington, the confidence (and the ability to inspire it in others) of FDR, the sense of history of Truman, the inspirational qualities of JFK, the environmental awareness of Teddy Roosevelt and Al Gore, and the plain good-heartedness of Jimmy Carter. A tall order.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday Five: The Water and the Word

In this Sunday's gospel Nicodemus asks Jesus, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" Poor old Nicodemus! He was so confused about the whole "water and Spirit" business of baptism.

For today's five, tell us about your baptismal experiences.
1. When and where were you baptized? Do you remember it? Know any interesting tidbits?
Maundy Thursday, 1963, at First Church, Congregational in Fairfield, Connecticut. It was part of our confirmation ceremony that I, my friend The Enthusiast, and a few others who had not been baptized as infants, were baptized by sprinkling. I wore a pale blue Chanel-style suit and a pillbox hat with a little veil (Jacqui Kennedy style -- removed for the actual baptism, of course).
2. What's the most unexpected thing you've ever witnessed at a baptism?
It's pretty mild, but the one thing I remember is that, when our former pastor baptized his son, there was a large clap of thunder. This would not have been so unusual except that it was March in Minnesota. The kid has just graduated from law school and is a fine young man, but no evidence yet to suggest that the thunder was an omen of any kind.
3. Does your congregation have any special traditions surrounding baptisms?

Current one has a special song the choir always sings. In our old one there was a white rose on the communion table for baptism.
To the right is a picture of Sisterknits on her baptismal day (after the ceremony) with her rose. The christening gown she is wearing was made for her older brother by OHP's mother, and now awaits the next generation of wearers.
4. Are you a godparent or baptismal sponsor? Have a story to tell?
Yes and no. I have never been asked to be one, and my children don't have individual sponsors. OHP's grandfather, a Lutheran pastor, believed and practiced (at least for his own 9 children) that the entire congregation were the sponsors of the baptized. OHP's parents continued this tradition as did we. There are some members of our former congregation who take this very seriously and our children have always been supported in a "godparently" way by them. I hope I have done the same for some of the children I've seen baptized.
5. Do you have a favorite baptismal song or
You bet, and here it is, written by Onkel Hankie Pants for Sisterknits' baptism. It can be sung to the hymn tunes Vienna or Innocents (or any tune with the meter that seems to fit the spirit of the piece.) If you would like to use it for a baptism OHP would be happy to hear about it.

Just As On That Golden Morn

New Century Hymnal 448

Just as on that golden morn,
From a thought the world was born,
So today our God has smiled,
Giving us this little child.

Thankfully we bring her(him) now
To make our baptismal vow
That this child will always be
Part of God’s one family.

By the water and the word
On this child a name’s conferred;
But the greater gift we give
Is a faith by which to live.

Let us pray that she(he) may grow
In God’s Grace and come to know
This, the miracle we share:
Heaven’s love is everywhere.
Copyright 1985, H. C. Strandskov

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Enough, already!

Remember the other day I said we had had 76+ inches of snow this season? Well, it's probably closing in on 7 feet now. Of course, some of it melted during our January thaw. But here are some pictures of the scene that greeted us this morning, for those of you in snowless climes. The one on the right is the view from our front door at about 7:00 am. Yes, those are the lions, nearly covered in snow.

Here is a more expansive picture of the view from the
front door. If you click to enlarge it, it appears a snowblower is being used near the car in the parking lot of the apartment building across the street. (My sister checked into it and a 2 bedroom apartment goes for $850 a month; I'd guess maybe heat is included.) You can also see the many overhead power lines. Much has been made recently here of the 10th anniversary of the Great Ice Storm of 1998, when many people were without power for up to 9 days or more. Today we probably will not have quite such a disaster, but outages are being predicted because the heavy wet snow is to change to rain and then if it freezes later, branches will break and lines will go down. The tree-trimming schedule is better now, but I still wonder why some effort hasn't been made to put some of the lines underground. Just another infrastructure issue, I guess, where we defer maintenance to "save money." Then, like the I-35W bridge, more money, and lives, are lost.
And here's a little Shakespeare for you, the verse that
comes into my head whenever I look out the window
at this picture:

When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail;
When blood is nipt, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl
Tu-whit! Tu-whoo! A merry note!
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all around the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson's saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian's nose looks red and raw;
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl --
Then nightly sings the staring owl
Tu-whit! Tu-whoo! A merry note!
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Although there are precious few shepherds blowing "nails" here, milking is done mostly with milking machines, crab(apple) roasting is in decline, and most of us are fairly clean and keel (stir) our own pots now, it is surprising how much of the rest of the poem still fits our experience of winter.

And apropos of the owl, one last photo, of the truck with a snowplow attached (a common amenity here) which has just finished clearing the parking lot of the Snowy Owl Gallery next door. (They cast silver, mostly, jewelry for a number of local designers and sell some of it in the front room. They bring their dogs, Isabella, Truman, and Chester, to work, and Rusty enjoys visiting with them.) I am looking down over our front yard and our driveway, which is on the basement level; it's not really a miniature truck.

I am...10:02 am???

Apparently on a Saturday, for most people. Right now my life is such that 10:02 am is rather like the description, with the additional enhancement that it's approximately time to take Rusty for his mid-morning walk. Oddly enough I saw this on Crimson Rambler's blog and she is also 10:02 am, but I suspect she has usually been long at work by then.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tuneful Tuesday: Love Songs

Today is Onkel Hankie Pants's birthday! So while he's off at rehearsal I will post a few happy love songs in his honor, and for Valentine's Day coming in just two days. The songs come from several decades but none of them is exactly "Our Song." Um, that would be Morning Has Broken...the Cat Stevens version was popular during our brief engagement. So we often get to sing it in church, which not many people can say, I bet.

1. Always -- Irving Berlin -- 1925. Irving Berlin wrote this as a wedding gift to his wife Ellin Mackay, and it really was a gift -- he assigned the rights to her and it brought her a nice income. I have three recordings, one by Gordon Macrae, one by a British orchestra, and my favorite of the three is by Willie Nelson. For anyone who has never heard it, here's a nice young man doing a very creditable job of it:

2. Exactly Like You -- Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields -- 1930.
"I know why my mama Taught me to be true She meant me for someone Exactly like you!" I really like the version by Tony Bennett and k.d. lang about the best of all, but here's an instrumental version made only seven years after the song was written, by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli.

3. As Time Goes By -- Herman Hupfeld -- 1931. Ah, Casablanca, Bogart, Bergman -- what could be more romantic? Oddly enough the two recordings I have are by Peggy Lee and Guy Van Duser; Rudy Vallee had a big hit with it and then, of course, Dooley Wilson played and sang it in the film. If you have 15 minutes, you can go here and scroll down to hear the NPR 100 piece about it, which ends with what Susan Stamberg considers the "definitive" version -- by Barbra Streisand. Well, it's pretty good. But I'll go with this one:
Some people might say this was a sad song because of the context of the film, but I'd say it's more philosophical.

4. Two Sleepy People -- Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser -- 1938. You can't go wrong with Carmichael or Loesser -- the latter being OHP's favorite Broadway lyricist. I've always loved this song, in spite of the cigarettes, and my favorite version is by Fats Waller. But I also found this one which is different, but quite good:

5. Twilight Time -- Ram, Nevens, Nevens and Dunn -- 1944.
It seems incredible that this great song was apparently written by a committee! This would be the first of the songs that OHP and I can actually remember from our childhood, or at least I can -- it was a hit for the Platters about the time I got my first radio. Although the beginning of the song is truncated, here they are performing it in France that year:

6. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face -- Ewan McColl -- 1957.
Well, if we had another song besides Morning Has Broken, this might be it. Although Ewan McColl wrote it (for Peggy Seeger, his wife and Pete's sister) in 1957, and Roberta Flack recorded it in 1969, it was not until 1972, the year we met and were married, that it was released as a single and became a big hit, after being used in Clint Eastwood's movie Play Misty for Me (filmed on the Monterey Peninsula where we met). And here is Roberta Flack, so amazing, just as powerful as the first time I heard it.

7. In My Life -- John Lennon and Paul McCartney -- 1965
. This song speaks to how, when you find that one special person, you still love your other friends, but there will always be one you love more. Someone has made a nice montage to go with the song.

Well, I could go on, but I won't, This is enough for one night!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Random Thoughts Walking along Maine St.

With the recent return of snow, enough so that the sidewalk clearers haven't made it to our sidewalks here yet, I've mostly been walking Rusty along Maine St., which is our main street. It doesn't take more than a teaspoonful of brains to walk the dog, so I get to observe and think about things. Some of the things I've seen and thought about:
  • This morning I saw my first Maine Agriculture license plate, and then I saw two more! They are a new addition to the (some say too many) charitable-donation license plates here, and are by far the most colorful, as you will see. We have the lobster plate, the extra money from which goes to lobster research, in honor of my lobstering relatives. There are also the loon plate (facing the opposite way from Minnesota's loon plate, but for the same purpose), the Black Bear plate (I think this one's for U. of Maine - Orono alumni) and the rather generic "UMS" plate for the University of Maine System. And, of course, the standard one with our state bird and flower is quite nice as well.

  • There are currently a few "For Lease" signs on Maine Street. The camera/digital photography store, one of a chain of three, has closed, and so has one of the three opticians. A natural skin care store/salon is moving into the optician space, leaving an empty space on the second floor of the former department store where the camera store is now also vacant. A chain video store has closed its Maine st. location, to the joy of the independent DVD rental store and also the game rental shop.
  • A year or so ago, the Goodwill store on Maine St. closed, reopening in a new purpose-built, larger building in the next town, near Target and so on. The site was empty for a while, but now we have two new businesses there -- the wave of the future -- one sells gelato, locally roasted coffee, and Simply Divine brownies, and the other is a cybercafe and gaming venue. (I mean of course, the kind of gaming where you go to play Guitar Hero, not Las Vegas-style gaming.) Both seem to be doing well. Two more new restaurants have opened as well, one on each end of the downtown section of the street. As you can tell, all these businesses are dependent on discretionary spending or "disposable income." So far they seem to be doing well in spite of our national and local economic woes. I wish them luck.
  • We have an awful lot of banks. Only two of them, as far as I can tell, are out-of-state banks.
  • There's not much on the street that was there when I was in high school (business-wise -- most of the buildings are the same, just not their occupants). Off-hand I would say, apart from one of the opticians and the odd dentist, there's an insurance agency and Day's News (where you can get Italian sandwiches and ice cream cones as well as magazines and newspapers).
  • License plates again -- Maine doesn't charge as much for vanity plates as some states, so they are quite common. Outside a church once I saw one that said XEGSIS. Last night, by the organic food store, was one that read PRSNKT. But most people, like LEONA B, BABETTE and DE BOYS, are not as creative.
  • Rusty has once or twice found a discarded doughnut on Maine Street. He now believes that every municipal trashcan might just hold a doughnut, so he has to investigate each one. Fortunately they are sturdy and he has yet to knock one over.
  • Now it's just about time to go for another walk down (or up) Maine Street. And by the way, I did make the biscuits, and they were good!

Friday Five: What Are You Doing for Lent?

Mother Laura at RevGalBlogPals says: Ready or not, Lent is upon us! [She then featured a Lenten song that's a favorite of hers, so I'm featuring one that's a favorite of mine here.]

1. Did you celebrate Mardi Gras and/or Ash Wednesday this week? How?
Well, not so much, as I mentioned in the previous post Slush Wednesday. I am still getting used to this new life of having only two humans in the household, and belonging to a big church with different rituals and expectations (same denomination, but many differences just the same). Home rituals seem odd with only two people, and most of my relatives here either are not Christians or are in non-Lent-observing traditions. This is something I'll have to keep working on.

2. What was your most memorable Mardi Gras/Ash Wednesday/Lent?
Having lived in the North most of my days, I've never celebrated Mardi Gras in context.
I suppose my most memorable Lent was the one when Cordeliaknits was born on the Wednesday before Easter (which I later discovered was called Spy Wednesday in some old traditions). Oddly, her birthday will not fall on Easter Sunday until long after I'm gone, but it does generally tend to fall during Spring Break for whatever school she's in. This should be her last Spring Break unless she ends up in academic chaplaincy, so there's a change coming for her!
Several years ago in my old church, the minister instituted something new for Ash Wednesday. Members were invited to submit general or specific people and other concerns to be prayed for during an Ash Wednesday litany. These were the most meaningful Ash Wednesday services I have ever known as we prayed for ourselves and each other and for the whole world.

3. Did you/your church/your family celebrate Lent as a child? If not, when and how did you discover it?
Not really, as far as I can recall. We heard our Catholic friends talk about Lenten fasting, giving up things for Lent, and so on. We did celebrate Maundy Thursday in the church where I was confirmed (on that evening, in fact) but I don't recall much else. In the first church I joined as an adult, we had Wednesday night soup suppers with a service and perhaps some mission component during Lent, and I still think of Lent as a time to think of others.

4. Are you more in the give-up camp, or the take-on camp, or somewhere in between?
More in the take-on camp, trying to have a more disciplined spiritual life.

5. How do you plan to keep Lent this year?
Primarily by reading and reflecting on the readings in Bread and Wine, the book chosen by RevGalBlogPals. I'll also make use of some other resources that I have or find. Just today when looking up Spy Wednesday to make sure I hadn't made it up, I came upon the Geranium Farm site -- coincidentally one of the principals of that site is the author of tomorrow's reading in Bread and Wine. So I'll be visiting that as well. In my "actual" (as opposed to "virtual") church, we are doing a study on Islam involving some lunches with videos and reading a novel about a Muslim American, and that ties in with something I often like to do during Lent, which is to learn more about another country or culture. (Probably fits in with all those Lenten soup suppers).
And today is Friday, and I will be making Salmon Wiggle* for supper. The Canadian Food Guide (I like it better than our Pyramid) says to eat fish twice a week, so I'm going to try that.

* How do you make a Salmon Wiggle? Tickle it under the gills! But seriously, folks, just open a can of salmon and take the skin and obvious bones out, give the juice to the cat or dog, and mash it up (the fish, not the cat or dog). Then make a white sauce like your Home Ec teacher taught you (don't forget to put on your hairnet!), add the salmon and some frozen peas, and serve over some form of starch. Usually it's toast at my house, sometimes potatoes, but today I am going to cast caution to the winds and by golly, I'm going to learn to make baking powder biscuits, or in fact, Bakewell Cream biscuits.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Slush Wednesday

Just back from my fourth walk of the day with Rusty. Earlier walks were quite wet and slushy; on this one, the slush was beginning to freeze but not, as yet, becoming too slippery. Anyway I have my Great Big Waterproof Boots to wear. They seem to weigh about 12 pounds apiece but that's probably not true.

No church for me today, I didn't want to walk all the way to Big Taupe Church, and I didn't want to trudge into the Episcopal Church in my clodhoppers. The only service at my church was at noontime, which suggests to me that the old New England Congregationalists here are not quite comfy with Ash Wednesday yet or at least don't think it's important for young families and children to participate.

I did read the readings for today from Bread and Wine, the book the RevGalBlogPals are reading for Lent. The general introduction talked about Lent as a time of joy, not the way many people think of it. The introduction for the first section was part of Oscar Wilde's The Ballad of Reading Gaol, where Wilde compares the heart broken by the consciousness of sin to the box of ointment that the woman in the Gospel uses to anoint Jesus. The reading for today was titled "Repentance" by Kathleen Norris, from her book Amazing Grace. She talks about reading the Psalms to parochial school students when she's being a poet-in-residence, and having them write their own psalms as not only an exercise in poetry, but a way to deal with their justifiable anger (for example, toward a sibling who mistreats them). Once they've got the anger out, they can begin the process of repentance. (And reconciliation?) If we think of the Psalms this way, it becomes a bit easier to take the parts where the Psalmist begs God to smite his enemies. I don't feel that we use the Psalms enough in church, and one of the reasons is probably a squeamishness about all that smiting! (Also there is almost an obsession in the mainline church with keeping the service to one hour in length. When this is used as a reason to truncate endless repetitious announcements, well and good; but I wouldn't mind staying a bit longer if we said or sang a Psalm every week, and maybe an extra hymn as well.)

Some years ago a friend told me this anecdote: An elderly man is asked whether he believes in infant baptism. His response: "Believe in it, hell! I've SEEN it!" I know people who say they don't believe in sin. And my response is, "Believe in it, hell! I've DONE it!" And it leads to a broken heart, or as the child in Kathleen Norris's piece puts it, a "messy house," but then it can also lead to the joy of repentance.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

How Long Before Someone Writes This Novel?

In the half-sleeping time this morning, after Onkel Hankie Pants had taken Rusty for his walk, and before their return, I dreamed a plot for a story or book, possibly a romance novel. I doubt very much that I shall ever write it, so if you want to, feel free.

It's a blog romance! There is a blogger who is a youngish (30+) woman, a bit of a hipster -- she may perhaps spike her hair and have tattoos. In my dream her blog was (mystifyingly) called something like "always a suit." There is another blogger, a man in his mid-60s but still quite vigorous and good-looking in a craggy, slightly grizzled way. Both are unattached and assume they will remain so. Somehow they start reading each other's blogs, and commenting on them. This goes on for quite some time with the relationship unfolding until another person who reads both blogs gently points out that the two have fallen in love. At first they don't believe this but finally arrange a meetup and then another and pretty soon they are together. Oh, and the older guy turns out to be a fairly well-known poet (blogging semi-anonymously) who's originally from London.

I could go on about where all these characters came from (I believe most of my dreams are processing events in my life, books I've read and films I've seen) but I have much more to blog about. But when you see the first epistolary novel in the form of blog entries, remember -- I thought of it first! (Or maybe not. Maybe one has already been published, or at least is being written.) (According to Wikipedia, there is actually a novel/blog that is a blog...For Ilford Dyson, I Hope You Find This which is actually on Blogger just like me. But I was thinking of a print novel.)

Oh -- and the difference between this and other epistolary novels, also between it and stories of people who've hooked up via the Internet (with sometimes disastrous results) is that the whole courtship, at least until the face-to-face meetup, takes place in full view of, and with comments from, all the other blogreaders.

Tuneful Tuesday: Haunted Ballads

I haven't blogged much for a while (until today, when I'm going crazy blogging), and have missed a couple of Tuesdays. I'm not sure why, perhaps it's just that my hands get cold at the computer (with oil at #3.19 a gallon on our last fill, we are not keeping the thermostat set very high); perhaps a little seasonal depression (nothing serious, just lack of energy); or perhaps it's just because I've been spending a lot of time reading.

I recently read the last (alas!) two books in Deborah Grabien's Haunted Ballad series. There are only five books in all; Ms. Grabien, apparently partly because of publisher problems, has moved on now to a series with a rock'n'roll musician as the protagonist. But back to the Haunted Ballads....

The protagonists are Ringan Laine, a folk guitarist and vocalist with a successful band, but who also has another career as a restoration consultant for old buildings. The series is set in England so both the buildings and the folk songs are seriously old. Most of the music Ringan's band does are Child ballads and the like. His long-time companion, Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes, is an actor, director, and founder of the Tamburlaine Players, a theatre group which does a lot of Shakespeare and such around Britain and Europe. Ringan and Penny are fully committed to each other, but maintain separate residences, and their peripatetic lifestyles lead to many joyous reunions.

Each book centers around one of the Child ballads. I won't describe each of the plots, but the basic premise is that a ghost appears, usually in or near an old house or other building, causing a lot of trouble for Penny, Ringan, and anyone else who happens to be around. They realize that the ghost has something to do with one of the ballads and the story behind it. Through investigating the facts underlying the ballad (which the folk process has often garbled), Ringan and Penny are able to resolve matters, but not before many thrilling episodes take place. If you like Phil Rickman's Merrily Watkins books, you'll probably enjoy these books as well.

Apart from the stories, which are well-plotted and gripping with engaging characters, one of the things I appreciated most about this series was Ms. Grabien's ability to write about music. Many times in each book, Ringan's band or some other musician plays, and the description almost makes you hear the music. And it's better, in her description, than the best music you've ever heard. It's sort of the way Rex Stout wrote about food in the Nero Wolfe books.

A fun thing as I've read the books was finding recordings of the songs they're built around. Unfortunately for me, the last, The New-Slain Knight (Child 263) doesn't appear to have been recorded as far as I can tell. But here are the books, with links to some recordings that are available, and some YouTube videos where possible.

1. The Weaver and the Factory Maid
(This is an old ballad, but is not one of the Child ballads, dealing as it does with the Industrial Revolution): The apparently definitive recording of this song is by Steeleye Span, from their album Parcel of Rogues, and also included on various "greatest hits" albums. It's also available as a Digital Download ; look under Steeleye Span with the title simply given as "The Weaver." (By the way, if you are going to do any of these things with, you can go to RevGalBlogPals website and surf to Amazon from there, and RGBP will get a little money.)

2. The Famous Flower of Serving Men (Child 106) Here's the song as done by Martin Carthy:

This song is available on his album Waiting for Angels, and it's also available, as a Digital Download, from the late Ewan McColl combined with another ballad, Sweet William.

3. Matty Groves
(Child 81) I was more familiar with Joan Baez's version, but the version Deborah Grabien had in mind was, I'm sure, Fairport Convention's. There are a number of versions available for Digital Download, and don't forget the variant, Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard. Here is a fairly recent live performance by Fairport Convention
but for a rendition by a lesser-known band that perhaps has more youthful energy, try this one:

4. Cruel Sister (Child #10 as "The Twa Sisters") has many versions. The Armstrong Family have recorded it as "Lay the Bent" on their CD The Wheel of the Year, but it is a version that combines elements of "Cruel Sister" with the riddles that you may recall from "Scarborough Fair" as sung by Simon and Garfunkel. Deborah Grabien references the Pentangle version (available from iTunes) in her book, and it's available on iTunes.
The Dutch duo Yggdrasil does a lovely, though truncated, a cappella version here:

For a solo version with all the words, very scary, try this one:

Now, speaking of haunted ballads, there is another, longer series of mysteries set in the Smoky Mountains area which also takes its titles from old ballads. Sharyn McCrumb's series begins with If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O. The connection with the songs, and the "woo-woo" element, are both more subtle in these police procedurals, but I discovered that the author actually does "Words and Music" events where she reads from the book and a folksinger performs the songs. (Check out "Words and Music" on her website.) Although I tend to think of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan when I think of the song "Pretty Peggy-O" or "Fennario," apparently it was also a Grateful Dead favorite and has inspired a lot of people to post videos of themselves doing it. This was a nice one:

From Ugly to Pretty, Overnight

It's snowing again! Although I have somewhat mixed feelings about this (yesterday most of the sidewalks were finally dry and ice-free), I have to confess that I was wishing for the snow a bit. Yesterday, and indeed for several days now, all my views have been so ugly, in the way that only Northern urban winter landscapes can be. Grimy piles of snow and ice mixed with road sand. Last fall's unraked leaves and dead grass, revealed by the melting snow, damp and brown and depressing of aspect, and reminding us of tasks left undone. Bits of trash (cigarette butts and the like) which would be swept up at other seasons, lying frozen in place in puddles and gutters. Often a grey, oppressive sky. It was surely in just such a landscape that "California Dreamin'" was written.

Yesterday I had idly wondered whether we would get some more snow to cover this ugliness, but I must not have read the local forecast, because when a wet dog jumped on the bed this morning I assumed it was raining. It was a pleasant surprise to get up and see the trees (and our lions) covered once again in their lacy shawls of snow.

But, it's supposed to change to rain later -- and then in a day or two there is the dreaded prediction "Ice." But for now, my world is pretty again.

Friday Five, Very Late but with benefit of hindsight

Sally, from Great Britain, at RevGalBlogPals said last Friday:
There is so much going on this weekend that I thought I'd provide an options Friday 5!!!!
First: Superbowl ( someone explain to this Brit the significance)- love it or hate it? 5 reasons please!!!!!
Well, Superbowl is kind of like World Cup Soccer, or the World Series in baseball -- whoever wins gets to say they're the best for a year. I'm actually fairly indifferent to it. This year "my" team (because of where I live, the New England Patriots) went in favored to win and coming off an unbeaten season. But the New York Giants beat them. So it goes, and the world goes on. I did notice while walking the dog about 7:30 Sunday evening that there were very few cars on the road or people on the streets downtown, although the one bar/restaurant that probably has a big TV looked busy. I guess the best thing about the Superbowl (though we didn't do it at my church) is a charity thing called "Souperbowl" that a lot of youth groups do -- a special collection of either canned soup or money for the hungry among us. Some years ago the Superbowl was held in Minneapolis, where I lived, and my workplace for some reason enlisted many of us as volunteers -- I was at a desk in a hotel, I think, in St. Paul explaining to people how to get to Minneapolis, and other tourist things. So a good thing about the Superbowl is the extra funds it brings to the city where it is held. To show you how ignorant I am, I have no idea where the event was held this year! (Unlike the World Series, it has nothing to do with where the teams come from, so there is normally a lot of travel involved and hotels are happy to have guests at what would otherwise probably be a slow time). So, is that five reasons? A lot of people enjoy it, so let them, is my feeling.
Second : Candlemas/ Imbolc/ Groundhog day/ St Brigid's day- all of these fall on either the 1st or 2nd February.
1. Do you celebrate one or more of these?
Not really. Although I'm aware of Candlemas as the time by which all my Christmas stuff should really be put away, and it isn't, quite, so I feel a little guilty. Also, it's hard to escape Punxsutawney Phil if you partake of any news media (he's the groundhog in Pennsylvania who sees, or doesn't see, his shadow). But where I've mostly lived my life, there will ALWAYS be at least 6 more weeks of winter after February 2nd, and indeed we're very lucky if that's all we get.
2. How?
See #1
3. Is this a bit of fun or deeply significant?
See #1
4. Are festivals/ Saints days important to you?
Festivals, yes. Not having been raised in a tradition of Saints' days, it's not embedded in my consciousness; I actually quite like the idea of having someone or something to celebrate each day. In a way I do this with Today in Literature, which commemorates various writers each day.
5.Name your favourite Saints day/ celebration.
Well, it would have to be St. Nicholas' Day (December 6) which is my "Name Day" and also part of my favorite Advent/Christmas seasons.