Friday, December 31, 2010

Seven Swans A-Swimming

Happy seventh day of Christmas!

It's also New Year's Eve. I will have my parents over, and the three of us will try to stay awake until midnight. We both have church services at 7:00 p.m., at our respective churches, both are communion services. I have some snacks to put out for us afterwards, including olie bollen that I have on order at the Dutch Bakery here in Lynden and a stick of banket that I bought there last week. Olie bollen are kind of like donut holes, only with raisins and tastier and bigger. They are a traditional Dutch New Year's food. Banket is an "almond stick"; pastry around a very rich almond-paste core. It's traditional, at least among the Dutch in Lynden, to eat banket during the Christmas season. The Dutch Bakery will be a crazy, jumping joint today with people lining up to buy olie bollen. I ordered and paid for mine yesterday, to make sure I have some.  I am scheduled to pick up my order at 2:00 p.m.

If you ever are in Lynden, Washington, do go to the Dutch Bakery, which is located at 421 Front Street. In addition to olie bollen and banket, they have donuts, cakes, pies, bread, rolls, coffee cake, and other goodies, plus deli-type lunches of sandwiches and soup. It's just good, plain, wholesome food, emphasis on good. It's always the busiest place in downtown Lynden.

Well, speaking of restaurants, after seeing Voyage of the Dawn Treader on Monday, my folks and I stopped at the Hilltop Restaurant, which is more or less half way between Lynden and Bellingham. I have a friend who lives in Bellingham, and we typically meet there for brunch on a Saturday so that neither of us has to drive to the other one's town. It's a nice family restaurant, but I had a minor complaint on Monday. We were seated at a table directly below a speaker that was piping a local radio station into the restaurant. I found it too loud and asked the waitress if it could be turned down. She said she did not know how it worked, but she would pass my request along to those who did know. I assume she did, but there was never any change in the volume, and it was a low-level, constant irritant to have that noise occurring while my parents and I ate and talked.

I will acknowledge that I have a lower level of tolerance for noise than average, at least judging by the noise level in many public places. I really don't know why we have to have background music in so many places. When that restaurant is full, you probably can't hear the music at all over the sound of plates, cutlery, and people talking. When it's empty--we were there at an off time--the music is obtrusive. Almost every restaurant has music blasting, and I don't appreciate it, especially if it's rock music, even "soft rock." I like a lot of rock music but it's not music to dine and socialize by. If we must have music while we eat, let it be something instrumental, light and pleasant, like Handel's Water Music. Even Muzak would be preferable to the often hoarse voices lamenting betrayals, broken hearts, sexual misconduct, and general angst accompanied by pounding drum beats and electric guitar riffs and interspersed with commercials and inane DJ chatter.

Turning to the topic of seven swans a-swimming. Today in Lynden, they could swim in the creek, where the water is flowing, but still water is frozen over -- my little deck pond and the bird bath in the back yard are both frozen. Yesterday and today have been bright, sunny, cold days. The sunshine is welcome. Around here, in the winter, cloudy days are warmer than clear ones. The clouds act like a blanket to keep warmer air closer to the ground. I do like rain. I like it a lot, and that's a good thing or I couldn't live in the Pacific Northwest, but I do appreciate a few sunny days to break up the pattern.

Rain in the northwest, by the way, is rarely a violent downpour and even more rarely a thunderstorm. It's often a gentle rain that is almost like mist -- "the rain you can walk in without getting wet." Sometimes it is a steadier, heavier rain. My dad says his dad, who was a farmer, would call a steady rain that occurred at the right time of year to water crops a "million dollar rain." My dad himself once commented how the sound of the rain on the roof is pleasant to him, reminding him of how it felt to have hay and animals safe in the barn and hear the rain on the barn roof.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Six Geese A-Laying

Happy sixth day of Christmas!

I don't think in real life I have ever eaten a goose egg. Presumably they're bigger than chicken eggs.

"Goose eggs" are also zeroes in scoring baseball.

And then there's the goose that lays golden eggs, a goose you should never kill.

And there's the game "Duck,duck, goose."

Tonight, December 30th, is New Year's Eve Eve. Har.

It's nice to have New Year's on the weekend and get a 3-day weekend out of it. I have tomorrow off from work and then the weekend.

Then will be the dreaded Monday after the holidays.

I had a supervisor once who told a joke about someone who is sent to h-e-double-toothpicks, and he is given the choice of what chamber of punishment to be in. He sees all kinds of places he doesn't think he could take, but then he sees a room where the people are just standing around drinking coffee, although they are covered with excrement, and excrement is waist high in the room. He figures that's not so bad, so chooses that room. Then, everyone finishes their coffee and a loudspeaker instructs: "Break's over. Everybody back on your heads."

See, they have to stand on their heads in that room.

So going back to work on the Monday after the holidays is like: "Everybody back on your heads."

But it's not Monday yet. Tony Campolo talked about a sermon he heard that revolved around the sentence, "It's Friday, but Sunday's coming!" The Friday being Good Friday and the Sunday being Easter. In a work-a-day world, I tend to think, "It's Friday and Monday's not coming that soon." "Okay, it's Saturday and Monday's still a day away." "It's Sunday, but Monday isn't until tomorrow."

What I think on Monday is not fit to print.

I did look up the saint of the day: Anysia.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Five Golden Rings

Happy fifth day of Christmas.

Today is the feast day of St. Thomas Becket. He was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 by four knights who believed they were obeying the wishes of King Henry II of England. There had been a power conflict between Thomas, as Archbishop of Canterbury, and Henry, as King of England. Henry made some remark that made his knights believe he was asking them to kill Thomas. By tradition, his remark was, "Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?"

After Thomas's death, Henry II did public penance for his role in his death, and the Catholic Church made Thomas a saint. His shrine was in Canterbury Cathedral, and it is to that shrine that the pilgrims in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (14th Century) are travelling as they tell their stories to one another.

T.S. Eliot's play, Murder in the Cathedral (1935), is also about Thomas Becket. I read that for my Eliot seminar at Calvin College. That would have been about 1982 or 1983, so about 27 years ago. 

I guess, given that many years, it's no disgrace that I can't remember it super-well. I want to say that its theme was "readiness is all," but maybe that was Hamlet. Perhaps I should re-read them both.

It would also be interesting to get DVDs of good performances of the plays. My brother has told me that the Kenneth Branagh version of Hamlet is good. Back when I was in high school, yea, verily, even unto the distant 1970s, in an English class we watched Laurence Olivier's version. Olivier's acting techniques are a bit over the top for modern audiences.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Four Colly Birds

I always sing "four calling birds," but according to Wikipedia a "colly bird" is a blackbird, and the singing of "calling birds" instead is a misunderstanding. A minor Lady Mondegreen. Once I saw a Peanuts comic strip where Snoopy was counting down to "A Woodstock in a Pear Tree," and when he said/thought "four colly birds," I thought Charles Schultz was punning on Snoopy being a dog and making him sing about "collie" birds.

Anyway, happy fourth day of Christmas.

A sad event is commemorated in the traditional church calendar today. December 28 is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Here is Matthew 2: 16-18:

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:

In Ramah was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

The poignant 15th Century "Coventry Carol" addresses this tragic event, sung by a mother of Bethlehem:

Lullay, thou little tiny child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny child.
By, by, lully, lullay.

O sisters, too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day;
This poor youngling for whom we sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Herod the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day;
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young, to slay.

Then woe is me, poor child, for thee,
And ever mourn and say;
For thy parting, nor say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Three French Hens

Happy third day of Christmas. I took today off from work, and my parents and I went to a matinee of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It is, of course, different from the book, but it's pretty good. It preserves Eustace's transformation, his re-transformation--inside and out--by Aslan, Reepicheep's quest to go to Aslan's country, Aslan's instruction to Lucy that he has a different name in her world and she must get to know him there, and the possibility of Eustace's return to Narnia. In fact, a line in the last scene of the movie sets up, for those who know the books, the possibility of the events of The Silver Chair, but I don't know if Walden Media plans to make and release another Narnia movie.

The third day of Christmas is also the Feast of St. John the Evangelist. He is, by tradition, "the disciple whom Jesus loved," who stood at the foot of the cross and, afterwards, took Jesus' mother Mary under his care. He wrote the Gospel According to John, the three Epistles of John, and his vision of Revelation, which he experienced in a vision while in exile for his faith on the island of Patmos. I heard a beautiful story that when he was a very old man his final sermon consisted only of his repeated urging, "Little children, love one another."

My grandparents have "Children, love the Lord" on their gravestone.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Two Turtle Doves

Ha, ha! I got around Blogspot's problem. Uploading an image wouldn't work in "Compose" (WYSIWYG) mode, but it would work when I click over to "Edit HTML."

So, anyway, today is the second day of Christmas, also known as the Feast of St. Stephen, the day on which Good King Wenceslas looked out, when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.

Today I finished wrapping presents. Here is a picture of my kitchen table while wrapping was in progress.

This afternoon was our larger family gathering, comprised of my parents and me, my sister-in-law, my niece and her husband, and their four children. We opened presents and then had dinner together. Like the "Sleigh Ride" song I quoted a few weeks ago says, "There's a feeling nothing in this world can buy, when they pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie. . . . These wonderful things are the things we remember all through our lives." Except tonight it was pecan pie, which my sister-in-law made because she knows I love it. What could be tastier than pie made by someone you love who loves you and made it for that reason?

Meanwhile, here are the words to "Good King Wenceslas" (1853; John Mason Neale):

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.

Brightly shone the moon that night, tho' the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath'ring winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know'st it, telling:
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?"

"Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither.
Thou and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither."

Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together,
Through the rude wind's wild lament and the bitter weather.

"Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger.
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer."

"Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

Bah, humbug

Well, not to be Scroogey, but stupid Blogspot it not letting me upload pictures. Every time I click on the "Add an image" icon, instead of letting me access images from my computer, it tells me I have to sign in with my Google i.d. to access my online photos "in the cloud." Then, when I click on the button to sign in, it tells me, "This feature is not available." Get it together, Blogspot, you dopes.

Sorry. Feeling frustrated and annoyed. Grr.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

Today is the first day of Christmas. I hope it was merry for all who come to this blog. I spent it quietly at home, sometimes with my parents, sometimes alone. It was a good day.

If I could, I would say something profound right now about the "true meaning of Christmas." I guess I could do like Linus Van Pelt and quote the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 2, verses 8-14):

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve "party"

So after church tonight, I had my parents down for a little snack and egg nog (met slokje).

At my church tonight, we had a festival of lessons and carols, which was also a candle-light service. We sang mostly well-beloved songs. There was one song I didn't know well, and one that I knew pretty well--"Of the Father's Love Begotten"--but that I could tell most of the congregation was struggling with.

Where I was sitting, I could see up the center aisle, and half-way the front, next to a pew was a fire extinguisher. At first I wondered about it, and wondered if someone in that row had an oxygen tank. Then I thought maybe it was required by the fire department. A few years ago, they made law in our fair little city that churches that have a candle-light service have to get a permit from the fire department. I thought, maybe it's a rule that they have a fire extinguisher. Then I pictured the elder who was sitting there leaping to his feet and spraying a candle-holding member of the congregation with the fire extinguisher and covering them with that white foam. I almost got the giggles, but I forced my mind away from the picture and stayed serious. Later the fire extinguisher caught my eye again, and I almost giggled again, but I controlled the impulse. Other than those lapses, it was a fine service.

The deck in winter

Christmas Eve, 2010, on the back deck. Cleared off and rainy. Kind of pretty, still.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


So yesterday, actually while blogging yesterday's post, I was looking for a Dave Barry column to link to, about the differences between guys and women. I found it, it's called "She's driving for a relationship, he's lost in the transmission." Various people had it reproduced on various sites--no doubt in violation of copyright laws--and I was looking for one in easy-to-read type to link to. I clicked on a link that seemed to be about that and my Internet Explorer froze up. A window kept popping up wanting me to run an anti-virus scan, but I suspected that window was from whatever was invading my computer. I shut the computer down, then turned it back on and tried to open Malwarebytes but got a message it was infected, then tried to open my antivirus software--which I haven't run in a long time because it makes my computer even more glacially slow than its natural January-molasses speed--and got the same message. So I shut it down again and came up to my dad's computer to finish my blog post and check a few accounts and make sure they were okay.

This afternoon I took the computer to the shop, and the gal there said there is a virus that pretends to be an antivirus program and asks people to pay for it by credit card, to get that number. So I'm glad that didn't happen. She also asked did I only turn it on once since the invasion, because some viruses propagate.

She said they would run a clean-up on it but she couldn't promise they'd get my computer back to me before the end of the day tomorrow, and after that they're closed for the long holiday weekend. So it goes. If I get it back tomorrow, I'll be thankful. If not, I'll remind myself that it's better to spend some holy days without excessive internet activity and try to consider it a "fasting" from it. Although it's pretty easy to come up and use my dad's--except he uses it himself a lot.

I just hope I don't lose files such as family pictures and old sermons and stuff.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I'm such a girl

So this afternoon I finished up my Christmas shopping at Wal-Mart. I needed to get something for my two littlest local great-nieces, ages 4 and 3. I was thinking Barbies. Last year I happened to find--in Safeway while grocery shopping--two Barbies and two matching little girl Barbies in shiny, glittery princess dresses. Man, were those a hit.

Today I saw Barbies, but many of them were in bathing suits and short dresses. I was looking for a more wholesome Barbie for my innocent little ones. Finally found "Babysitter Barbie" and "Dentist Barbie." For some reason, "Babysitter Barbie" comes with--in addition to the child she is babysitting--a bathroom ensemble including a sink and toilet. I think I'll give that one to the 4-year-old. Lately she finds toilets and toilet-related topics a source of great amusement, so I might as well give her a reason to giggle. And "Dentist Barbie" may help the 3-year-old overcome her refusal to open her mouth at the dentist. These dolls may not be as entrancing as last year's princess Barbies, but they're better than Beach Blanket Barbie or Borderline Slutty Barbie.

Anyway, while I was looking for girls' stuff, I would often think, "Cute!" "Sweet!" "I would have loved this!" "Aww." "Adorable." Then I looked for a toy for my great-nephew. When I looked at boys' toys, I thought, "Bleah." "Yuck." "Ick." "Who'd want to play with that?" and occasionally, "I think he'd enjoy that, but he'd also break everything in the house--possibly including the bones of several family members" (this for a high-powered Nerf rifle). I ran into a couple ladies from my church and mentioned these thoughts to them. One who is  a mom said, "Yes, but then you get some boys and find out that they really do like that stuff." I said, "They're a crazy bunch."

It reminded me of a good book I read some years ago, You Just Don't Understand, by Deborah Tannen. Her basic thesis was that women and men grow up in separate cultures and have a culture gap to bridge when they talk to each other. Women often talk for the purpose of establishing ties of relationship, while men talk to accomplish a goal. If a person talks about a problem they have, a woman is likely to respond by talking about a similar problem, to show she understands, while a man is likely to respond either by minimizing the problem, to provide reassurance that it's not that bad, or by offering suggestions for solving the problem. Men like talk to be about something, while women often just like to talk.

I had a friend when I was in seminary who had a boyfriend. She was going to come to my place for dinner and to spend the evening, and her boyfriend gave her an interesting magazine article he had recently read and suggested it could be a topic for us--she and I--to talk about. When she told me that, we both guffawed at the idea of needing a topic for conversation--as if we would run out of things to say. I also observed that he apparently didn't realize that he himself would be our major topic.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Rare occcasion in the heavens

Tonight there is a lunar eclipse that, on the East Coast, will occur on the same date as winter solstice (starting 2:41 a.m. December 21). Out here on the West Coast, it will still be late December 20 (11:41 p.m.) when it starts but it will be solstice by the time it reaches full eclipse (12:17 a.m. Pacific, 3:17 a.m. Eastern). I was thinking I should watch it because eclipses are exciting and one on solstice is rare.
On the other hand, I have to wake up tomorrow and go to work, albeit for half the day, and what's more I need to stay awake while I'm there--not to mention while I drive each way. I'm already sleepy, and it's not even 7:00 p.m. Mid-winter has that effect on me.

Fortunately, I don't need to choose. It's so cloudy this evening in Washington that, if I did stay up, I couldn't see the moon, so I might as well go to bed. Problem solved.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

4th Advent

Gospel: Matthew 1:18-24

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.

When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.

Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.”

When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.

Lectionary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Sunday night

Well, I'm headed into two weeks of abbreviated work hours and shorter work weeks. You can't beat that with a stick, as my dad would say. Somehow the shorter hours and fewer days take away a lot of Sunday night stress. Not that my Sunday stress is too bad normally, but I always have that feeling on Sunday night that the workweek ahead can't be any longer than it is now.

I had much, much higher Sunday night stress when I was a high school teacher. Then, Sunday night was an actively unhappy time because I had so much anxiety about the week ahead. I always felt--and generally with good reason--behind in my my work when I was a teacher. I could never keep up with the grading and would swirl into a vicious cycle of guilt and anxiety that would end only with the end of the school year.

For some reason, my current job as a paralegal causes me the least stress in my off hours of any job I've had. I think part of that is my increased age and better perspective on things, but part of it must be the job, too.

Late night TV

I try to post every day, and I noticed it was 11:59 p.m., so I had to write a one-word post to make it under the wire. It's late Saturday night, or I guess now it's early, very early, Sunday morning.

I channel-surfed and came across a show with and about Susan Boyle, the 47-year-old woman who wowed the judge and audience on "Britain's Got Talent" a year or two ago. They judged from her frumpy appearance that she was just foolish to come out on a stage, but then she sang "I Dreamed a Dream" from the musical Les Miserables and stunned them all. A video of her performance went viral on youtube, starting from footage of her eating a sandwich, looking very ordinary, to everyone sneering and rolling their eyes at her when she walks onstage, and ending with her going backstage having stunned the audience, the judges, and the show MCs with her singing. The video makes me cry every time I watch it..

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cold and dark

Even chillier tonight. It's supposed to be a cold day tomorrow. I guess it is winter. My office building had a Christmas lunch today for the tenants. Very nice. Still had some work to get done in the afternoon. In a lawyer's office there are always things you have to do today and tomorrow or Monday will be too late. But now I'm headed into a slow couple of weeks, 1/2 days and days off, and co-workers gone out of town. Just a few days now until the shortest day.

Christmas, you know, was once on solstice, back in the Julian calendar. The symbolism of celebrating Christ's birth on that day (since no one knows on what day he actually was born) was that Christ comes into the world at its darkest moment, and immediately the light begins to increase. Summer solstice, which was back then June 24, was celebrated as the Feast of St. John the Baptist--the day the light decreases, because when people began to follow Jesus instead of John, John, recognizing that Jesus was the Messiah, said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).

I like the symbolism in both those celebrations.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Decisions, decisions

Chilly evening. It makes me not want to take a shower, even though really I should. I'll have to keep thinking about it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Simply and plainly and homely

Also in this He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereupon with eye of my understanding, and thought: What may this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. I marvelled how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for little[ness]. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasteth, and ever shall [last] for that God loveth it. And so All-thing hath the Being by the love of God.

Also our Lord God shewed that it is full great pleasance to Him that a helpless soul come to Him simply and plainly and homely.

Quotes from Revelations of Divine Love, by Julian of Norwich

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010


Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete: modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestrae innotescant apud Deum.

Benedixisti, Domine, terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Iacob.

Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men: for the Lord is nigh. Be nothing solicitous: but in every thing by prayer let your petitions be made known to God.

Lord, Thou hast blessed Thy land: Thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob.

The Lord is nigh.

The Lord is nigh.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I wonder as I wander

This is a great Christmas song--joy, but also a haunting, mysterious quality.

I Wonder as I Wander
Words and Music by John Jacob Niles

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on'ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God's heaven, a star's light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing
Or all of God's Angels in heaven to sing
He surely could have it, 'cause he was the King

That first line "I wonder as I wander out under the sky," just puts into a few words the human condition: I wander out under the sky. And the first verse expresses a mystery worth contemplating: Why did Jesus come and die for ornery people like us? And I like that the melody is unresolved at the end because we never can solve that mystery, only ponder it in our hearts, like the Blessed Virgin.

I always thought the whole thing was an Appalachian folk song until today when I did a little online research and found that the composer John Jacob Niles has written this about the song:

I Wonder As I Wander grew out of three lines of music sung for me by a girl who called herself Annie Morgan. The place was Murphy, North Carolina,and the time was July, 1933. The Morgan family, revivalists all, were about to be ejected by the police, after having camped in the town square for some little time, coking, washing, hanging their wash from the Confederate monument and generally conducting themselves in such a way as to be classed a public nuisance. Preacher Morgan and his wife plead poverty; they had to hold one more meeting in order to buy enough gas to get out of town. It was then that Annie Morgan came out--a tousled, unwashed blond, and very lovely. She sang the first three lines of the verse of "I Wonder As I Wander". At twenty-five cents a performance, I tried to get her to sing all the song. After eight tries, all of which are carefully recorded in my notes, I had only three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material--and a magnificent idea. With the writing of additional verses and the development of the original melodic material, "I Wonder As I Wander" came into being. I sang it for five years in my concerts before it caught on. Since then, it has been sung by soloists and choral groups wherever the English language is spoken and sung.

It's interesting that the most profound verse did come out of that sort of spontaneous, instinctive singing--it's an idea that wells up naturally from the heart. What Mr. Niles did with this simple fragment was draw out the original theme, make a whole work, and then bring it to a wider audience. But the quality that appeals to the listener comes from the original source.

Family fun

Oops, two days without updates. It's a busy weekend. Yesterday I went with my dad, my sister-in-law, my niece, and my niece's four kids to a Christmas tree farm where they helped me pick out and cut down a tree.

Then, home to  my house, where my mom joined us, too, and we decorated the tree.

Then, pizza and, as it happens, birthday cake. This morning: church. This afternoon: Nutcracker ballet.

Meanwhile, it's raining like crazy this morning.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What's in a name

Tonight when I was driving home, the driver in front of me stopped to let a lady cross the street. I could see while she stood on the curb that she had a large white dog on a leash, but when she stepped into the beam of the headlights I saw that she also had a large black dog on a leash. I said to myself, "I wonder if their names are Salt and Pepper?" A moment later, "Whitey and Blackey." And a couple blocks later, "Ebony and Ivory," which made me laugh out loud. I've never been a huge fan of either Michael Jackson or Paul McCartney. I like much of their music, but their public personas don't attract me. Anyway, what would be the perfect names for a pair of large dogs, one white and one black?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Where was Moses when the lights went out?

In the dark. That's an Edith Bunker joke.

This morning, just as I went into my bedroom to get dressed for work, the power went out in my house. I opened the blinds for outdoor light, but it wasn't that light out yet, so I had to feel for the clothes I planned to wear and peer through the murk at my socks to hope they matched.

** Side note. Other people might have matched socks folded together in some ingenious manner and kept neatly in a drawer so that in the dark, even if you couldn't be sure what color they were, you would know they matched. But other people don't wash certain crucial garments [read: socks and underwear], then keep the clothes basket of clean laundry on the floor of their room to dip into every morning while getting dressed. No one will ever call me obsessive compulsive about neatness (except, oddly, at work, where I am, kinda, sometimes). Back to our regular programming. **

I would say it was approximately 8:15 a.m. when the power went out. I called home during my lunch hour to find out if my folks were still sitting around without power, and they told me it came back on around 11:00 a.m. So, about two and a half hours without power. That's a while. My dad drove to Starbucks for coffee. The tree didn't grow far from the apple that fell, there.

It was windy today, which doubtless caused the outage, and occasionally rainy and stormy, but the wind seemed to come from the south, so the air was not very cold.

I guess that's about the most exciting thing that happened today, and in second place was realizing what would be a good Christmas present for my sister-in-law. But I can't say what.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Long nights

I guess we're two weeks until the shortest day of the year. After that I can console myself that the days are getting longer. In Laura Ingalls Wilder's book Farmer Boy, the dad said, "When the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen." Nooo.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Novelists and characters

Well, I have been reading Anna Karenina. Tolstoy can really create people on the page--the way they look, their mannerisms, the way their voices sound, their motives. But he doesn't have the warm love and compassion for his characters that George Eliot has. Tolstoy shows you how they really are in kind of a cold light, and many are the characters whom he despises. Eliot shows you how they really are, but also shows why they are worthy of respect and how once you understand them you can't help but love them, flaws and all.

I think my favorite George Eliot novel is Silas Marner. As for Tolstoy, I like War and Peace better than Anna Karenina.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Saying it right

Yesterday when I looked up a link for my French lavender, aka lavandula dentata, I saw a pronunciation guide for the Latin name. You say it, "lav-AN-dew-lah den-TAY-tuh." This was a good thing for me to learn, as when I was reading it, in my mind I was saying "lav-an-DOO-lah den-TAH-tuh." Now I know the proper pronunciation.


Here are some views of the branches of the contorted filbert.

And it produced a filbert nut! I was not expecting it to bear fruit because I figured it was ornamental. My sister-in-law was surprised it got a nut because she didn't think the tree was old enough.


Here is where I stored all my movable plant containers for the winter. This half of the deck has a "roof" over it, aka the upper deck. You can see that some lavender is still living, even after some freezing nights.

Having cut off and thrown away the dead petunias in one of the 1/2-barrel planters, I see this marker again, which gets hidden as the vegetation grows profuse in the summer.

And, when the leaves are gone, you can see the intricate beauty of the contorted filbert.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The dearest freshness deep down things

When I was clearing my deck, and moving the flowerpots under shelter, then whenever the plant was dead, I would cut off all the dead stalks. The French lavender (lavandula dentata) already perished from the cold, but as I cut it back, even the dead, discolored foliage was fragrant. When I cut back the peppermint and spearmint, I thought I saw some small sprigs of green in the dirt of the pot. Those mints are so hardy that I never have to buy new ones in the spring. I just  fertilize the "dead" remains, and new shoots come up. Indeed, they grow so much I often have to keep chopping them ruthlessly back all summer to keep them at a size appropriate to their pots. I would never plant them in the ground for that reason. I would fear that in a couple years the whole yard would be peppermint. And, similarly, when I cut down the lemon balm, which seemed totally black and dead, there in the bottom lurked some tiny green leaves, and I thought of the line from Gerard Manley Hopkins, "There lives the dearest freshness deep down things."

So this evening I hunted up the poem online, and here it is.

God’s Grandeur
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89)

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Clearing the deck for winter

Beautiful, sunny, cold, windy day today. I sat in the Adirondack chair by my herb barrel this morning. The rosemary has survived the cold that we've had so far, but is full of  leaves. The six lavenders I have in front of the barrels are still living, too, although--you can't see it here--some of the leaves at the bottoms of the stem are getting black. Past the second chair is the petunias. They're green, but dead. The first freeze did for them.

Leaves were piling up around the pots out in the center of the deck. I made up my mind that today I would move all those smaller pots under the shelter of the upper deck--see if that helps the living ones live and get the dead ones out of the way. Next week I will need this deck clear, as I will be dragging my Christmas tree along here to my door to set up in my living room. It really seems as though it was just summer and now I'm getting ready for Christmas. I guess it's partly due to the lovely, mild October we had, which was like an extra month of summer, almost.

I did get all these pots and the furniture moved this afternoon, so that all that's left on the sunny side of the deck are the Adirondack chairs and 1/2-barrel planters along the wall of the house. I did not sweep up the leaves, as my dad told me he has hired a lawn service to come take away the broken part of the tree in our yard (did I post a picture of that?) and clean up the fallen leaves and things in general, and he said one thing they will do is blow the leaves off my deck. So I left them for them.

Here's almost the same shot as above, but with the dog in it. Look how the sunshine makes sort of a nimbus all around him. Pretty.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Little town

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”
Micah 5:2

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Puppy dog on the half shell

Yesterday when I took my dog on his evening walk, I noticed on the homeward stretch that I was hearing a clicking. I moderated my own steps to see if my own shoes were making the noise, but no. Then I watched my dog walk and sure enough the clicking corresponded to his walking. It was not his little toenail clicks that he makes on the floors inside. It was a bigger click. He didn't limp at all, but I wondered if a small rock had gotten stuck between his toes.

When we got inside, I dried each of his paws with a small towel because it had been wet out and his feet were muddy. When I got to one of his hind feet, this half shell of some kind of nut popped off his foot and clattered to the floor.

He hadn't acted distressed by having it on his paw, but he did show signs of happiness once it was gone. Funny little dog.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The ever-spiraling years

Well, it's December and only 24 days until Christmas. It seems as though last Christmas was not all that long ago. When I was a kid, it seemed very long between Christmases. In the summer, I would sometimes get a strong nostalgia and yearning for Christmas, which was so far away. I would look at a booklet we had of Christmas carols and dream about Christmas. I would feel sad that it was hardly worth thinking about it because it was so distant. It was like I would be a whole other person by the time it came. The me who was now would never see it. But now, I think, Ah, so quickly. Christmas again.

I keep thinking of a phrase from this verse of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear":

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

"The ever-circling years": the same events and holidays keep coming around. But I think that the circle is really a spiral. It gets smaller every year, so that you go around faster and faster. And I suppose at the center of the spiral you disappear from this place and pass into another realm, eternity. Which is to say "the new heaven and earth," "by prophets seen of old," "the time foretold."