December 31, 2012



5 rules

Happy New Year's Eve.  I'd like to offer a big thank you to all of you who have followed me on this new blogging journey this year!  It went from being a dream to a reality, and of course it wouldn't have been possible without the support of my family and friends.  Here's wishing that 2013 is a good year for all of us!



December 29, 2012

For tea-lovers: 'Put Your Feet Up' Typographic Tea Print 

Oh my goodness, it's finally Saturday!  I must admit, this has been a strange week--the first week in my entire life that I have had to work the days after Christmas!  In my previous careers, as a teacher, a stay-home mom, and then a non-profit manager the week between Christmas and New Year's was always a vacation week, so I had plenty of time to relax by the fire and the tree after all the hoopla of getting ready for Christmas.  But I started a new job this past July, and with no vacation days saved up yet....it was back to work the morning after Christmas, with the rest of my family still snuggled in their beds!  I've been tired and slightly grumpy the last few days and am really looking forward to having time this weekend to recharge my batteries.  This poster says it all, and I've already followed its advice...I'm on my third cup of tea already, although I've substituted a piece of pumpkin pie for the small biscuit.  

I'm looking forward to spending time with my family this weekend--my daughter and her fiance' are coming to town, and my husband and I plan to see Les Miserables tomorrow.  I've been looking forward to seeing it ever since the first movie trailers were screened!  The music is just so stunning.  Other than that, I plan to take it easy, maybe read one of my Christmas books and work on a little cross-stitch or quilting project.  I suppose next week we'll need to start talking about new year resolutions...but that can wait until the weekend is over, right?!

What are your plans for the weekend?  I'd love to hear from you!
If you like the poster shown above, you can visit Wink Designs at their Etsy shop at  
http://www.etsy.com/shop/designedbywink


December 28, 2012



Most years I look back with a small measure of regret at the year that has passed by so quickly, but this year I am happy to say goodbye to 2012 and hope that 2013 will be a better year for all of us.  So much sorrow and grief this year, the heart wrenching loss of my nephew and uncle, health scares, financial worries, not to mention the acts of violence all over our country and the world that left all of us stunned.  It's time to say farewell to this year and to dream of a better year and a better world for all of us.

                    

Ring Out, Wild Bells

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson


    RING out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
    The flying cloud, the frosty light;
    The year is dying in the night;
    Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
    Ring out the old, ring in the new,
    Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
    The year is going, let him go;
    Ring out the false, ring in the true.
    Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
    For those that here we see no more,
    Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
    Ring in redress to all mankind.
    Ring out a slowly dying cause,
    And ancient forms of party strife;
    Ring in the nobler modes of life,
    With sweeter manners, purer laws.
    Ring out the want, the care the sin,
    The faithless coldness of the times;
    Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
    But ring the fuller minstrel in.
    Ring out false pride in place and blood,
    The civic slander and the spite;
    Ring in the love of truth and right,
    Ring in the common love of good.
    Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
    Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
    Ring out the thousand wars of old,
    Ring in the thousand years of peace.
    Ring in the valiant man and free,
    The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
    Ring out the darkenss of the land,
    Ring in the Christ that is to be.


December 27, 2012

“You cannot do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late.”  

Ralph Waldo Emerson 
Galadriel:  Why the Hafling?
Gandalf:  Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found.  I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay...small acts of kindness and love.  Why Bilbo Baggins?  That's because I'm afraid and it gives me courage.

As promised, today I am giving you a review on yesterday's movie event, The Hobbit.  With the same cast and director as Lord of the Rings, it has that epic, sweeping beauty as the first three movies, and the endearing characters that make you fall in love with cinema all over again.  My whole family loved it.  I particularly loved the scene depicted above, in which Galadriel, a royal elf and co-ruler of Lothlorien, and Gandalf, the Grey Wizard, discuss his choice of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, as the burglar in the dwarf party that has set out to reclaim the Lost Mountain from Smaug, the mighty dragon.  In speaking about holding evil in check, Gandalf claims that he has found it is the everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.  

And goodness knows, after all the personal and community tragedies of this past month, this is a statement I need to believe.  I need to believe that small acts of kindness and love will make the world a better place, and that even if I am only one person, I can make a difference through how I choose to greet the world.  I would like to retreat from the world for awhile, and slip into my bedroom and draw the covers up over my head.  It seems like every day there is more bad news, more sorrow, more terrible and unspeakable acts towards others, but the answer lies not in retreat but in boldly stepping out in faith and believing that good will triumph.

William Wordsworth must have felt much the same, when he penned 'that best portion of a good man's life; his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love' in this excerpt from Tintern Abbey.

Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour
William Wordsworth
(second stanza)

 These beauteous forms, 
Through a long absence, have not been to me

As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,


Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration: – feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man's life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened: – that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on, – 
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.


You may listen to the full poem at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_k66TJ8gLc








December 26, 2012



It's the day after Christmas, and in our household that means one thing (besides the leftovers)....it's movie day!  Since we moved away from our families twelve years ago we had to find something to substitute for the grand cousins' Christmas party we usually held the day after Christmas, and movie day has become our new tradition.  Since we are all avid J.R.R. Tolkien fans, The Hobbit was our unanimous choice for this year, and we have been waiting impatiently with high expectations for today.  We have watched the three Lord of the Rings movies so many times we can quote lengthy passages and are soooo excited to finally see the first installment of the book that started it all. 

I was introduced to The Hobbit back in college in the 70's, when I reluctantly signed up for an English class, The Warrior in Literature, which was the only English class available in the time slots I had left.  Does anyone else remember walking around an auditorium, clutching your schedule in your hand and standing in line to register for a class, only to have the last class that would work with your schedule close right before you reached the table?!  I was certainly not keen to take a class on 'warriors' and imagined a very boring semester, but in that funny way that life has of working itself out, it became my favorite class of all time.  We studied Le Mort d'Arthur, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Song of Roland, Njal's Saga, the Nibelungenlied, and finished with The Hobbit.  From the opening sentence “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit" I was captivated by the beauty of Tolkien's language and the fascinating worlds he created.  Elves, dwarves, goblins, dragons, good and evil, what more could you ask for in a timeless tale of legends of old?  I particularly like the title The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey--because in the end aren't our lives an unexpected journey?  We have moments of pastoral bliss, moments of trudging through frightening new territories, moments of facing a dragon, but in the end we all hope to triumph over evil.


Here is one of the poems from the Hobbit, Over the Misty Mountains Cold.  Due to its length, you can find the rest of the poem at http://allpoetry.com/poem/8500007-Over_The_Misty_Mountains_Cold-by-J_R_R_Tolkien.  I'll let you know tomorrow what we thought of the movie!

Far over the Misty Mountains cold,
To dungeons deep and caverns old,
We must away, ere break of day,
To seek our pale enchanted gold.

The dwarves of yore made mighty spells,
While hammers fell like ringing bells,
In places deep, where dark things sleep,
In hollow halls beneath the fells.

For ancient king and elvish lord
There many a gleaming golden hoard
They shaped and wrought, and light they caught,
To hide in gems on hilt of sword.

On silver necklaces they strung
The flowering stars, on crowns they hung
The dragon-fire, on twisted wire
They meshed the light of moon and sun.

Far over the Misty Mountains cold,
To dungeons deep and caverns old,
We must away, ere break of day,
To claim our long-forgotten gold.

Goblets they carved there for themselves,
And harps of gold, where no man delves
There lay they long, and many a song
Was sung unheard by men or elves.

The pines were roaring on the heights,
The wind was moaning in the night,
The fire was red, it flaming spread,
The trees like torches blazed with light.

The bells were ringing in the dale,
And men looked up with faces pale.
The dragon's ire, more fierce than fire,
Laid low their towers and houses frail.

The mountain smoked beneath the moon.
The dwarves, they heard the tramp of doom.
They fled the hall to dying fall
Beneath his feet, beneath the moon.

Far over the Misty Mountains grim,
To dungeons deep and caverns dim,
We must away, ere break of day,
To win our harps and gold from him!

December 24, 2012

 

Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small, was singing, without any presents at all! He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming, it came! Somehow or other... it came just the same.
(from How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

I'm up early to greet Christmas Eve, a day filled with wonder and the special magic of the season.  Families gather and celebrate together, homes welcome friends and neighbors, and tonight we will lift our candles high at our church's candlelight ceremony and sing Silent Night, Holy Night.  It is so beautiful to see so many candles glowing, symbolizing the light that pierces the darkness on this holy night.  And this year, oh how I need to see the light and know that for a brief moment the world can draw together and celebrate peace and goodwill towards men.



In addition to today's holiday celebrations it is also a very special day for me--it's the day I gained a father!  My parents were married on Christmas Eve at my small country church in Indiana 52 years ago today, so today I celebrate the birth of a baby in a manger, and the creation of my family.  When I raise my candle tonight at church, Dad, I hope you can see it all the way from heaven.  It's shining for you.

Christmas Eve 1960 at my grandparents' farm--My grandparents, my mom, me and my new dad!



Merry Christmas to all my friends!  May the beauty of the season shine bright in your hearts tonight.

December 22, 2012

 

Christmas miracles!  I've been saving my special Christmas miracle for today's post that links to Mockingbird Hill Cottage's A Favorite Thing-The Holiday Edition, because truly, this is my favorite story about a BIG PRAYER and a little girl.

 

The Christmas my daughter was four, she had mentioned several things she hoped Santa might have tucked away in his sleigh, but she also kept hinting that there was one special gift she had secretly wished for but was keeping that wish to herself, much like little Susan in Miracle on 34th Street.  Since she had three older brothers, we were working very hard to keep the magic of the Santa story alive and she wanted desperately to still believe in Christmas magic.  As all moms would do in a situation like this, I called on my friend Rita to see if she could get to the bottom of this special request to Santa. During a Christmas concert she leaned over and promised my daughter her secret would be safe with her, so we eventually found out that the desire of my little girl's heart and the gift that would prove Santa's existence was.....a Little Mermaid giga pet.  Problem solved--order one from the Disney Store and Christmas would be saved!

Except that (you know the rest of this story, right?) the Little Mermaid giga pet was sold out.  Completely.  Back ordered until May.  Maybe later.  I called on friends and cousins who lived in larger communities to scour the shelves of their Disney stores.  No luck.  Cue to Christmas Eve afternoon and I'm in the kitchen baking pumpkin pies and feeling that awful feeling that a mother has when she knows she can't deliver Santa magic.  My oldest son wandered in, and always empathetic, picked up on my dismay.  I shared with him the whole sad saga of the back-ordered giga pet that would prove to my little girl that Santa magic didn't really exist.  He listened carefully, and then put his hands in mine and earnestly asked if I wanted him to go upstairs to his bedroom and pray his BIG PRAYER.  I didn't even know he had a big prayer, but I thanked him and off he went.  Then, of course, I began to feel even worse, because now in addition to my little girl feeling let down by Santa, my son would feel let down by God!

A few minutes later, down he came, happily assuring me he had prayed and I should stop worrying.  Oh ye of little faith, right?  I simply could not have felt worse, and then, fifteen minutes later, the doorbell rang.  On our snowy steps stood the UPS deliveryman with a package.  From the Disney Store.  With a Little Mermaid giga pet.  I think I glimpsed angel wings on his back as he turned towards his truck.  To this day I have no answers for this, my very own Christmas miracle.  All I know is that I do believe in Christmas magic and Christmas miracles.  And I believe in the power of a little boy's love for his sister and his steadfast belief in the power of prayer.  God bless us, every one.


You can link to Claudia's Favorite Things-The Holiday Edition here:  http://mockingbirdhillcottage.com/
Please join me at her blog for more heartwarming Christmas stories!
 

December 21, 2012

How do you say goodbye to a man who meant the world to you?  A good, decent, honest man, who never harmed anyone and tried to do good all his life.  If you have been following my blog for a while now you know that my heart is split between Indiana and South Dakota.  I was born in Indiana and lived there until I was five, at which time my mother and I moved to South Dakota following her marriage.  I was such a lucky girl--since I never knew my biological father (he died young) I had my mother's two brothers who stepped up to the task of 'fathering' a little girl.  I never lacked for a male presence in my life--my grandfather and uncles loved me like I was their own.  And then when my mother remarried, I gained a father who gathered me into his arms and his heart and held on tight.  I was so very blessed. 

After moving to South Dakota and starting a new life as a prairie girl, I went back to Indiana every summer to hang out with my cousins and enjoy the rural life I had left behind--picking blackberries on my grandparents' farm, fishing in Grandpa's stock pond, going to the county fair (where I envied my cousin's ability to turn out amazing blue ribbon coffee cake braids!), cherry cokes at the local drugstore, and attending church at my beloved Kingsley United Methodist, where I had earned five perfect attendance Sunday School pins when I was little.  I sat in the 'family' pew and felt so safe--five generations of my family had worshiped at that church.  My favorite tv show during my teen years was the Waltons...remember that show?  The strong family ties and love they had for each other reminded me so much of my Indiana family.

In September of this year my husband and I traveled back to Indiana to celebrate my Uncle Lowell's 85th birthday.  On the night before the party we gathered for dinner at my cousin's house to watch a tribute video to this beautiful and loving man.  He came and sat next to me, and took my hand, much like in the picture above.  There we sat, watching old pictures and reminiscing about happy days in times past.  I had the chance to tell him how much I loved him, and for that I will always be grateful.  Because two weeks ago, in a vicious, senseless home robbery, the man we all loved so much was taken from us in a brutal fashion, shot to death over a flat screen television.  There are no words, there is no poetry, that can ease this sorrow, this overwhelming grief that threatens to engulf my family.  And yet, the pastor at his funeral urged us to move past the final day of his life and focus instead on the impact he had on all our lives and the legacy of love he has left behind. 

He loved his family.  He cared for his friends.  He worked the family farm.  He delighted in his grandchildren.  He took joy in his Model A car and his wagons and team of horses.  He worshiped at church, and lived his beliefs every single day of his life.  And he made a little girl feel loved and safe and secure, no small feat.  Thank you, Uncle Lowell, for always being there for me.  I will miss you every day of my life. 

After great pain, a formal feeling comes

 
After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was   it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –
 
 


http://mywabashvalley.com/fulltext?nxd_id=284682

This article contains a beautiful story of the final tribute to Lowell by his friends, who drove to Kentucky to pick up his old team, Kate and Pearl, and used the family wagon to transport Lowell one last time


December 9, 2012

Dear readers,

With a heart filled with sadness, I will not be posting for the next couple of weeks.  My family has suffered a tragic loss and I need to be with family through this incredibly sad time.  I ask for prayers and blessings for my family, and I hope that all of you take time to say I love you to those you hold close to your heart.  Don't wait until it is too late to express your love.

Peace to all of you,
Martha

December 8, 2012

Welcome to Saturday's Favorite Thing post!  I'm so excited...my Dickens Village from last Saturday is featured on my blogging friend Claudia's Favorite Thing Saturday post...be sure to check it out here http://mockingbirdhillcottage.com/2012/12/a-favorite-thing-15/#comment-38195 !

I'm going off the ranch today, and not posting a Christmas favorite thing.  There are already so many beautiful holiday things on display at Mockingbird Hill Cottage today that I thought I'd go a different direction.  I've been wanting to share these photos on here for a long time and never had quite the right opportunity, so today is the day!  See the picture below?  I cut this picture out of a Pottery Barn catalog over a year ago and carried it around with me--it was my 'inspiration picture' that I hoped to one day re-create in my living room.  This past March my husband was out of town for a long weekend (diy tip #1: projects like this are best done when husbands are gone...) and while I was browsing in my favorite antiques shop I came across a magnificent old sailor's trunk.  I can't explain it but that trunk was MEANT for my house--I could feel it in my bones!  And once I wrestled it into the car and then into my living room, it was time for action.  I called my girlfriend, who came over with a pitcher of Pimm's cup cocktails (diy tip #2:  pitchers of Pimm's cup really liven up the work!) 

I do not live on a Pottery Barn budget.  Some days, I have to stretch to be on a Target budget.  So I couldn't go out and purchase anything (except the trunk) for my new wall so I went house raiding--a table from my solarium, a lamp from my library, and some frames that were currently sitting in a closet waiting for just the right moment.  I had ordered a wall art quote a few months before, and I had spent my birthday money on an eye-stopping mirror shaped like a ship's wheel.  Somehow, it started to all take shape...
photo from Pottery Barn wall decor ideas page


Here's how it all came together....empty wall first.  The two pictures are of  Falkland Castle and Urquhart Castle (on Loch Ness) from a trip to Scotland a few years ago.  They had hung on the wall with a small round table beneath them, with two of my dining room chairs flanking the table.  It was a desultory grouping.


Next came the hanging of the mirror.  (diy tip #3:  too much Pimm's cup makes hanging heavy mirrors straight kind of hard....)

Next came the placement of this great quote by Mark Twain.  I know it's not a quote that everyone would choose to have in their living room, but my husband and I love to travel and I wanted this wall to reflect us and our adventures, and not be a cookie cutter decorated space.   Don't you love how the bronze ship just gleams?

The trunk that started it all...I am not going to show you the interior of the trunk on this post, but will save it for another day.  Trust me, this trunk is so cool!  It's a sailor's trunk from the mid-1800's, and the note on the trunk indicates it's from a small sailing village north of Boston.  My ancestors are from.....a small sailing village north of Boston.  How could I possibly not buy this trunk, right?!

Sorry about the sheet on the sofa...(diy tip #4:  too much Pimm's cup makes remembering to stage your photos a little more difficult...).  The lantern is from Pottery Barn...I'm allowed one little splurge, right?

And finally, the big reveal!  Here is how my inspiration wall looked at the end of the night.  All the photos are my own travel photos to Scotland, England and Greece.  The model ship is my husband's (I went to his office and 'borrowed' it while he was gone!), it's a copy of the Constitution, which we toured on our trip to Boston last year.  I assembled the chair from a box (Overstock.com) and found the great basket that sits underneath the table at Pier 1.  It holds my travel books and journals.

So there you have it....a photo and a trunk that started a total wall re-do.  Every morning when I come in to my living room I love it all over again!  I hope you enjoyed this peek at my favorite wall and have a great weekend!


December 7, 2012

 Hello, Bedford Falls! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas, movie house! Merry Christmas, Emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan! Hey! Merry Christmas, Mr. Potter!


I have a florist's card pinned to my bulletin board at work.  On a particularly rough day several years ago a gorgeous bouquet of flowers arrived at my office from my husband.  Opening the attached card I read "We are the Baileys".  Wow.  Four words, and it changed the tenor of my whole day.  I keep the card in sight of my computer where it always reminds me that no matter how rough or rocky a day might get, either personally or professionally, the bottom line is we are the Baileys.  It's a Wonderful Life is one of our must-see holiday movies, even though I have to confess that the last few years I seldom make it past Martini's bar and usually wake up just in time to sing Auld Lang Syne with the whole gang at the end of the movie.  Through thick and thin, lean times and periods of prosperity, celebrations of good health and anxious times of health concerns, the always gratifying but sometimes stressful times of raising a family, the one thing I have always been able to count on is my family, and most particularly, my husband.  Together we've created our own Bedford Falls, and oh, how I love it.  As you can tell from the 2004 ornament from my husband above, it's all about sharing and enjoying the wild and wacky movie script of our own lives, because truly, ours is a wonderful life.


The Most Wonderful Of All Things In LifeSir Hugh Walpole (1884-1941)
The most wonderful of all things in life is the discovery of another human being with whom one's relationship has a growing depth, beauty and joy as the years increase. This inner progressiveness of love between two human beings is a most marvellous thing; it cannot be found by looking for it or by passionately wishing for it. It is a sort of divine accident, and the most wonderful of all things in life.

December 6, 2012


Is it just me, or is this week flying by?  I think the swiftness of my days is in direct relation to how much I still don't have ready for Christmas.  Somehow that extra week after Thanksgiving lulled me into a sense of having more time to do my gift shopping and wrapping, and now the 25th seems way too close. Where are those darned elves when you really need them?!

My Christmas memory today centers around the jolly Santa card you see above.  I found this Christmas card tucked in a box last year, and when I opened the card I discovered it was the note that "Santa" had left for me along with my brand spanking new pink and white Schwinn bike the year I turned ten.  I was so excited to get the bike but the funny thing about the card was...it was signed by Santa but was in my father's very distinctive handwriting!  Thus was my introduction to who Santa really was.  Since my dad had recently passed, finding this card meant so much and for the last two years the card has been nestled in among my tree branches, where I can remember both my wonderful father and the true spirit of Santa. 

Off to school on my trusty Schwinn (check out the basket!).  My mother made my dress--isn't it cute?!  
Here is a poem by William Stafford, poet laureate of Oregon, who shares his love of biking in the words below:

MAYBE ALONE ON MY BIKE

I listen, and the mountain lakes
hear snowflakes come on those winter wings
only the owls are awake to see,
their radar gaze and furred ears
alert. In that stillness a meaning shakes;
And I have thought (maybe alone
on my bike, quaintly on a cold
evening pedaling home), Think!--
the splendor of our life, its current unknown
as those mountains, the scene no one sees.
O citizens of our great amnesty:
we might have died. We live. Marvels
coast by, great veers and swoops of air
so bright the lamps waver in tears,
and I hear in the chain a chuckle I like to hear.

I hope you have a good day--are you closer to being prepared for Christmas than I am?  I'd love to hear from you!

December 5, 2012


This week I've been writing about some of the special ornaments on my family's Christmas tree.  Every year our children's stockings contain a special ornament selected by Santa to represent something significant that happened during the year---an engagement, a wedding, a special role in a play, a trip, getting your driver's license, etc.  This happy little mouse, above, represents the year our youngest son won the state piano competition in South Dakota and got to go to Minneapolis for the regional competition. 

Because I believe having the skill to sit down at the piano and play a hymn, or a Christmas tune, or a piece of music that will calm and soothe your spirit (for me, the Bach Inventions are a great stress reliever) is so important, we made sure all four of our children studied piano.  For a while, my entire part-time teaching check went to Sister Mary Margaret, who both terrified and inspired our children.  She taught them scales, she showed them the power and majesty of music, and she shaped their ability to memorize long series of notes, which helped immensely in later years as three of my children are involved in acting.  She bribed them with warm soda and Woolworth bought-on-clearance trinkets, and occasionally astonished them by sliding off the piano bench, clutching her rosary and praying to God for patience with 'this student who has obviously not practiced this week' !!

At night I sit by my tree for awhile, looking at all the ornaments and all the stories they tell about our wild and crazy adventures as a family.  Funny stories, bittersweet moments, and celebrations of the heart are all nestled among the branches.  It's not a designer tree, and you won't find any pictures of it on Pinterest under "most beautifully decorated tree"--there are no two matching ornaments on the whole tree.  But it's my family tree in every sense of the word, and I wouldn't have it any other way. 

Here's a lovely poem by Billy Collins about piano lessons that I have enjoyed for a number of years--I hope its images make you smile as well. 

Piano Lessons
By Billy Collins
My teacher lies on the floor with a bad back
off to the side of the piano.
I sit up straight on the stool.
He begins by telling me that every key
is like a different room
and I am a blind man who must learn
to walk through all twelve of them
without hitting the furniture.
I feel myself reach for the first doorknob.
He tells me that every scale has a shape
and I have to learn how to hold
each one in my hands.
At home I practice with my eyes closed.
C is an open book.
D is a vase with two handles.
G flat is a black boot.
E has the legs of a bird.
He says the scale is the mother of the chords.
I can see her pacing the bedroom floor
waiting for her children to come home.
They are out at nightclubs shading and lighting
all the songs while couples dance slowly
or stare at one another across tables.
This is the way it must be. After all,
just the right chord can bring you to tears
but no one listens to the scales,
no one listens to their mother.
I am doing my scales,
the familiar anthems of childhood.
My fingers climb the ladder of notes
and come back down without turning around.
Anyone walking under this open window
would picture a girl of about ten
sitting at the keyboard with perfect posture,
not me slumped over in my bathrobe, disheveled,
like a white Horace Silver.
I am learning to play
“It Might As Well Be Spring”
but my left hand would rather be jingling
the change in the darkness of my pocket
or taking a nap on an armrest.
I have to drag him in to the music
like a difficult and neglected child.
This is the revenge of the one who never gets
to hold the pen or wave good-bye,
and now, who never gets to play the melody.
Even when I am not playing, I think about the piano.
It is the largest, heaviest,
and most beautiful object in this house.
I pause in the doorway just to take it all in.
And late at night I picture it downstairs,
this hallucination standing on three legs,
this curious beast with its enormous moonlit smile.

December 4, 2012

Great Spirit gave me special wings, calling me to soar above, He adorned my heart and gave me earth
......so I can simply love.
Great Spirit gave me friends and family, calling to my heart, He showered my life and showed me love,
......so I will never part.
Great Spirit gave me compassion and patience, calling me to be, He covered my eyes with loving kindness,
......so I can always see.


Yesterday I shared with you a special ornament on my tree that relates to all my favorite memories about ice skating.  Today I am sharing an ornament I gave my husband in 1995, that has a family picture from one of our special places in South Dakota.  You may recall I wrote about Sica Hollow and its Trail of the Spirits earlier this fall, and how it is a revered place for the Native Americans in that area of northeastern South Dakota. (If you would like to read my post about Sica Hollow, you can use this link http://poetryandacupoftea.blogspot.com/2012_10_01_archive.html) and scroll down to October 14.

Remembering Sica Hollow calls to mind a lovely Christmas song, the Huron Carol, which was written by a Jesuit missionary priest, Father Jean de Brebeuf, around 1641.  The Huron built a small chapel of fir trees and bark in honor of the manger at Bethlehem.  It's fun to remember that Christmas is celebrated in other cultures, and that not all nativity scenes are depicted the same. In the charming nativity scene below the animals at the manger were the fox, the buffalo and the bear.

1. 'Twas in the moon of winter-time
When all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim,
And wandering hunter heard the hymn:
Refrain:
"Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria."
2. Within a lodge of broken bark
The tender Babe was found,
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
Enwrapp'd His beauty round;
But as the hunter braves drew nigh,
The angel song rang loud and high. 

3. O children of the forest free,
O sons of Manitou,
The Holy Child of earth and heaven
Is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant Boy
Who brings you beauty, peace and joy. 

 
While I was looking online for a translation of the Huron Carol, I found a news article from last month that stated that for the first time ever, an American Indian had blessed the Christmas tree at the United States Capitol.  An Elder from the Tuolmne Bank of the Me-wuk tribe blessed the tree shortly before it was harvested and loaded on a flatbed truck.  According to an organizer of the Capitol Christmas Tree project, the blessing was done as the sun came over the mountain, and was 'an amazingly moving ceremony where they blessed the tree and the people on site and blessed a safe journey for the tree.'  What a beautiful beginning for our national Christmas tree!

 

If you aren't familiar with the lovely strains of the Huron Carol, you can find a beautiful arrangement by the Chris Norman Ensemble (an amazingly talented Canadian group) on their cd In the Fields of Frost and Snow.  Here's a short clip from that cd http://www.last.fm/music/Chris+Norman+Ensemble/_/Huron+Carol


December 3, 2012

First ornament following our marriage, given to us by my parents

I spent a good portion of my weekend changing my house from fall to winter, reliving happy memories every time I pulled a new decoration out of the box.  As I unwrapped a couple of ornaments my children had made back in elementary school I started thinking about all those great grade school holiday celebrations.  This was, of course, back in the day when an elementary school could stage a full nativity pageant and there were no complaints to the school board.  In music class we always celebrated Christmas by listening to Mrs. Nelson's LP collection of Amahl and the Night Visitors.  I remember others fidgeting through the songs, but oh how I loved when King Kaspar sang This is my Box and how I cried when Amahl generously offers his only belonging, his crutch, to the new baby and is thereby cured of his lameness!  It just wasn't Christmas until I heard his mother tenderly sing "don't forget to wear your hat" as Amahl sets off with the wise men in search of baby Jesus. 
Besides the all-school concert and the classroom parties, I had fun picking out just the right present from the Fuller Brush salesman (I am sooo dating myself now!) for my classroom and orchestra teachers, with my mother's guidance of course.  Such delicious offerings to choose from....would it be a plastic candy cane filled with candy or perhaps a tin of exotic tea?  And then...on the last day of school before winter break, we had an all school assembly to watch Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates (via reel to reel, naturally).   There was something so exhilarating about outdoor skating--fresh air, pink cheeks and really cute winter hats with pom poms.  We had a rink just a few blocks from my house, with a little warming house and a loudspeaker that played the hits of the season (I remember Honey (I Miss You) and Lemon Tree in particular).  One memorable winter my dad even turned our backyard garden into our own personal skating rink--how cool was that?!  So I really cherish the first ornament that my mother gave us after we married...the lovely ice skating couple shown in the picture above brings back so many happy memories.  We started putting our ornaments on our tree last night, and my husband hunted through the collection to put this on one first. 
 
On our trip to Scotland a few years ago I ran across this delightful painting by Henry Raeburn in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh.  Don't you just feel like smiling when you compare the Reverend's rather dour expression to the exuberance he shows as he pushes off on his right leg?  

 
'The Skating Minister', The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, National Gallery of Scotland
Reverend Dr Robert Walker (1755-1808) Skating on Duddingston Loch by Sir Henry Raeburn.
  





















 
Here's a fun little poem by e.e. cummings that sums up the fun of ice skating:
Spring is past, and Summer's past,
 Autumn's come, and going;
Weather seems as though at last
 We might get some snowing.
Spring was good, and Summer better,
 But the best of all is waiting,-
Madame Winter-don't forget her.-
   O
        You
            Skating!
           
Spring we welcomed when we met,
 Summer was a blessing;
Autumn points to school, but yet
 Let's be acquiescing.
Spring had many precious pleasures;
 Winter's on a different rating;
She has greater, richer treasures,-
   O
       You
           Skating!
         
Gleam of ice, and glint of steel,
 Jolly, snappy weather;
Glide on ice and joy of zeal,
 All, alone, together.
Fickle Spring!  Who can imprint her?-
 Faithless while she's captivating;
Here's to trusty Madame Winter.-
   O
       You
           Skating!

One last thought about ice skating--what's not to love about these oh so cute ornaments below?  I found these lovely little felt ornaments at Alicia Paulson's website/blog:  Posie:  Rosy Little Things.  It's too late for this year, but I already bought the pattern so that hopefully next year I can add a few more ice skates to my tree!

http://aliciapaulson.com/collections/ornament-patterns/products/ice-skating-afternoon-ornament-pattern

Sorry about the formatting in my post today--I'm having 'technical difficulties' with my computer.  Hopefully by tomorrow the look will be more consistent!  In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you--what are some of your favorite grade school holiday memories? 

December 1, 2012

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!" 

from A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens



Happy Saturday!  After a really busy week at work I am so looking forward this weekend to finish decorating my house for the holidays.  I love the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's, and enjoy creating special little holiday vignettes throughout my home.  With the help of my husband we have managed the trickiest part of our decorating...assembling the Dickens Village in our family room.  My collection started in 1984 when my best friend gave me one small house--the Candle Shop.  I thought it was charming, so next year my husband added another house.  And like topsy, so it grew.... 

From its humble beginnings of several little shops my collection has expanded to cover three long tables!  I have to admit, it's a bit of a pain to put it all up (and God bless my husband, whose unenviable task is crawling under the tables, trying to hook up over forty light cords that will eventually plug in to the four outlets we have!).  But the end result is sooo worth it and for my family it heralds in the beginning of the holiday season.  One of our 'must watch' holiday movies every year is A Christmas Carol.  We are partial to the George C. Scott version--his sneering bah humbug is just so...Scroogey!  So we have tried to include all the pieces from the story in the collection.  In addition, we have also carefully chosen pieces that hold a special memory for us, and today I am sharing a few of those with you.  It has indeed become one of my 'favorite things' so I am also sharing it on my friend Claudia's Saturday blog Favorite Things.  Please visit her blog today to see a wonderful collection of favorite things by some pretty amazing bloggers!

Welcome to my version of A Christmas Carol and my Dickens Village!


Welcome to olde London Towne!  You can see the innocent little Candle Shop that started this collection on the left.   Of course it wouldn't be a celebration of A Christmas Carol without Scrooge and Marley's Counting House!  The pub next to Scrooge's office reminded us of a favorite pub we enjoyed in London.  I'm sure the street vendor would be happy to share some nice hot chestnuts with you!


It's not geographically correct but I've tried to incorporate a little of the beautiful Hyde Park Winter Wonderland ice skating rink, although Hyde Park is certainly not found in Trafalgar Square, next to the magnificent St. Martin's in the Fields church!  One of my absolute favorite memories of my last trip to London was attending a Baroque by Candlelight recital at this magnificent church.  When the soprano filled the sanctuary with the gorgeous strains of I Know that my Redeemer Liveth from Handel's Messiah there wasn't a dry eye in the house.  If you listen carefully, you might hear the ensemble on the church's steps playing God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen!



St. Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square, London--you can see how faithfully Dept. 56 recreates its Dickens pieces! 
One of my favorite pieces is the beautiful brownstone apartment building on the right.  We stayed in Earl's Court in London and loved to walk down the streets, admiring these beautiful old homes.
Street view, Earl's Court, London

We had so much fun at Richmond Park, located on the outskirts of London.  My husband golfed and I entertained myself with a walk through the bridle path and deer park.  When it started to drizzle I enjoyed many cups of tea and a good Anne Perry mystery in the golf club, which looked very much like this one.  Richmond Park was a royal hunting preserve, and it was there in 1536 that King Henry VIII stood upon a hill waiting a signal from the Royal Tower of London that his wife, Anne Boleyn, had been executed, thus allowing him to wed Jane Seymour.  In the background, you can see a bit of the Globe Theater.  We enjoyed a tour of the building on our last visit.  The recent movie Anonymous has some lovely scenes of this historic theater.
"God bless us every one!" said Tiny Tim, the last of all. 

 Have a wonderful weekend!  

You can find Favorite Things Saturday at http://mockingbirdhillcottage.com/