Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas! Today I am posting one of my very favorite Christmas Carols. The story behind it makes the song all the more touching and beautiful. Rather than rewrite the entire thing here, I'm just going to give you a link and highly recommend you go read it:


I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
sung by Sarah McLachlan


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Today I've chosen what is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful Christmas tunes of all: Silent Night.

Silent Night, Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht in German, was first performed on December 24, 1818 in the Nikolaus-Kirche (the Church of St. Nicholas), located in Oberndorf, Austria. There are several different histories connected to the writing of the story, though none can be indisputably proved. (Google it if you're curious, it's kind of fun to read).

Silent Night is my shout-out to my Germanic ancestry (Austria was once part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, so I'm calling it close enough).

Here it is in the original German, sung by the Vienna Boys Choir.

Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht
performed by The Vienna Boys Choir

Merry Christmas Eve! 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Today's song isn't *technically* a Christmas song, but it's often sung at New Year's and I figured that was close enough. Besides, it's fantastic.

I trace my ancestry back to Germany, Ireland, England and Scotland--a typical American mutt, that's me--and I take pride in all those branches of my family. I posted the Wexford Carol a while back, which is Irish. In the Bleak Midwinter and the Coventry Carol (also previous choices) are English. Tomorrow I'll be posting a Germanic song, hint hint! Today's pick hails from good ol' Scotland.

Most of us here in the US have heard "Auld Lang Syne," though generally only the first verse. So, I've found a version that includes all the verses, with many of Robert Burns' original Scots retained. (Scots is not, contrary to what many believe, a dialect of English, but is considered its own language, having its own grammar rules, vocabulary, and distinct sentence structure, though with many similarities to English.) The sentement of the song is that, even with the passage of time, those people we've known and places we've lived remain important to us and shouldn't be forgotten. It is a celebration of life and friendship and family.


Auld Lang Syne
performed by Dougie MacLean

a few translations:

Auld Lang Syne -- Old Long Since (essentially "long, long ago")
twa -- two                                 braes -- slopes
pou'd -- pulled                          gowans -- daisie
fit -- foot                                   paidl'd -- paddled
frae -- from                              burn -- stream
dine -- dinner time                   braid hae roared -- broad have roared
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup! -- And surely you'll buy your pint cup!
And surely I'll be mine! -- And surely I'll buy mine!
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere! -- And there's a hand, my trusty friend!
And gie's a hand o’ thine! -- And give us a hand of thine!
And we’ll tak a right guid-willie waught -- And we'll take a right good-will draught


Thursday, December 22, 2011

You know that old saying, "Save the Best for Last"?? That's not how I do things around here. Today's carol is my favorite! My absolute favorite!! (Enough exclamation points?)

"In the Bleak Midwinter" began as a poem by 19th Century English poet Christina Rossetti and was set to music by the composer Gustav Holst in the first decade of the 20th century. While Holst's tune was the first the words were set to, Harold Darke composed his own tune only a couple years later. Both are considered traditional.

The words are touching and beautiful, and the sentiment very tender. The last verse is my favorite as it expresses very succinctly my feelings.

I won't tell you which tune is my favorite, but will instead let you decide for yourself. Here they both are for your listening pleasure. The first is Holst's tune; the second is Darke's. Both renditions are performed by the choir of King's College, Cambridge.

In the Bleak Midwinter
by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge



1. In the bleak mid-winter frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter long ago.

2. Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter a stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

3. Enough for Him, whom cherubim worship night and day,
A breastful of milk and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

4. Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air,
But His mother only in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved with a kiss.

5. What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him, give my heart.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Today's post is short, sweet and to the point--a lot like yours truly.

I get to go home for Christmas this year.

There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays
by Perry Como


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Today's pick is a traditional Irish carol. It can be traced back to County Wexford, with lyrics dating to the 12th Century. Interestingly enough, the original lyrics were English, though modernly some Irish translations of those lyrics have been sung.

In case any of you somehow have missed my annual "Holiday of Coolness" postings on St. Patrick's Day, I feel a special affinity to the Emerald Isle. I have Irish ancestry, my people coming out of County Donegal. Also, I was born on St. Patrick's Day, which makes me especially Irish, or something.

So, today's carol is not very well known, but one of my favorites just the same.

The Wexford Carol
by James Galway, flute & Laurence Beaufils, harp 


The Wexford Carol

Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved son
With Mary holy we should pray,
To God with love this Christmas Day
In Bethlehem upon that morn,
There was a blessed Messiah born

The night before that happy tide
The noble Virgin and her guide
Were long time seeking up and down
To find a lodging in the town
But mark right well what came to pass
From every door repelled, alas
As was foretold, their refuge all
Was but a humble ox's stall

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep
To whom God's angel did appear
Which put the shepherds in great fear
Arise and go, the angels said
To Bethlehem, be not afraid
For there you'll find, this happy morn
A princely babe, sweet Jesus, born

With thankful heart and joyful mind
The shepherds went the babe to find
And as God's angel had foretold
They did our Saviour Christ behold
Within a manger he was laid
And by his side a virgin maid
Attending on the Lord of Life
Who came on earth to end all strife

There were three wise men from afar
Directed by a glorious star
And on they wandered night and day
Until they came where Jesus lay
And when they came unto that place
Where our beloved Messiah lay
They humbly cast them at his feet
With gifts of gold and incense sweet. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Christmas song "White Christmas" has confused me my entire life. I grew up in Arizona. I had no concept of a white Christmas, no burning desire to experience one, no understanding of why wishing someone a "white Christmas" was even appealing. From what I'd heard, snow was cold and had to be shoveled and stuff. It seemed to me that wishing someone a white Christmas was sort of like saying "May your Christmas be filled with exhausting manual labor and high heating bills."

I now live in a cold area of the world where white winters are more or less a given. I kind of get it. I think. Snow is still cold and definitely has to be shoveled, but it sure is an improvement over bitterly cold weather without snow. At least snow can be fun. And it's pretty. I'm guessing though, the proverbial wish for a white Christmas has much more to do with fond childhood memories of home and family.

I do love the Christmas song "White Christmas," and here are my excellent reasons why...
  1. The movie. Dude. Watching "White Christmas" is a family tradition dating back to... well to probably the year the movie was made. It was always the first Christmas movie we watched each holiday season. Danny Kay made me laugh every time and Bing Crosby made me swoon. I always wished I could dance like Vera Ellen and sing like Rosemary Clooney. And, in the context of that film, wishing for a white Christmas totally made sense! (And now I'm grinning at the memory of Danny and Bing dressed in the ladies' costumes lip-synching to "Sisters.")
  2. The other movie. Do you remember the scene in "Home Alone" where Kevin pats his cheeks with aftershave, then screams? The Drifters version of "White Christmas" is playing in the background. Hearing their rendition always makes me think of that movie. We watched this movie with my grandfather the year it came out and it is one of my favorite childhood memories. Grandpa laughed so hard he had tears pouring down his face, which made us laugh even harder. I can remember sitting there with my family, all of us gasping for air because we were laughing so hard. I can't hear the song or watch the movie without thinking of him.
So, while there are many versions of "White Christmas" to choose from, I've gone with this one.

White Christmas
by The Drifters

"May all your Christmases be white." (provided you like that sort of thing.) 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Nat King Cole recorded "A Cradle in Bethlehem" in 1960. I first heard it during the Christmas season of 2002.

I was expecting and was two months into what would become 6 1/2 months of bed rest. I was sick of being off my feet, sick of constant trips to the hospital and anti-labor medications that left me ill and shaky and miserable. Thinking of reasons to be grateful became a daily regimen of mine. I was reluctant to tell myself it would all be worth it when I had a little baby to hold and cuddle and love at the end of those months of struggle. With so many complications, all of which could easily cause the baby to be born too early or to die in the womb, I didn't dare hang my hopes on a happy outcome.

As Christmas approached, I heard "A Cradle in Bethlehem" on the radio and fell in love with it. The song is a lullaby, soft and quiet and joyful. I distinctly remember thinking, "If I am blessed to have this baby, I will sing that song to her." The words speak of a mother in Bethlehem cradling her baby. I felt a connection to Mary that year I hadn't before--the circumstances surrounding her pregnancy and the birth of her child were not easy, but she was blessed for it in the end.

I still love this song. And, yes, I sang it to my beautiful daughter after she was born, healthy and strong.

 A Cradle in Bethlehem
by Nat King Cole

Saturday, December 17, 2011

My 11-year-old son picked today's Favorite Carol, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" as performed by The Jackson 5. His reason, verbatim:

"I like this song because it shows what people thought of Santa and Christmas a really long time ago, like before the 80s. It's an old song, but that makes it kind of fun in a 'this was how things were in the old days' way."

 Before the 80s. Have I mentioned this kid cracks me up?

Alright. Christmas the way "things were in the old days"...

Santa Claus is Coming to Town
The Jackson 5


Friday, December 16, 2011

Today's Favorite Carol is a favorite year round.

When my oldest was a tiny baby we played classical music to help him fall asleep. He was born premature and had health problems as a result. He had to be fed via syringe, one ounce at a time at extremely regular intervals. He woke constantly night and day, desperately hungry but unable to eat. I knew he was uncomfortable, even pained, and likely even more frustrated than I was. We endured hour-by-hour, both exhausted and worn down. Though it didn't take away his struggles, classical music soothed him.

We first played "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" for him some time in his first month of life. As he generally did when soft, soothing music played, he quieted down. But after a moment, I noticed that he was crying. He made no noise, this wasn't a pained cry or a hungry cry or a frustrated cry. Silent, tears rolled down his sweet little face as he listened, and for the first time in the short time he'd been with us, he looked truly at peace.

Over that first year he overcame many of the difficulties he was born with and grew strong and healthy. We still put on classical music, mostly because my husband and I love listening to orchestras and chamber choirs and such. Whenever "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" played, our little boy stopped whatever he was doing and just listened, and every time he cried silent tears. Every single time.

Ten years have passed since that difficult first year. Though he still likes the song, it doesn't impact him the way it once did.

I am convinced in my heart of hearts that this music touched his soul and brought him the peace he'd known in his Heavenly home before joining us here, helping him endure those earliest earthly trials. I cannot listen to it without being moved and feeling deep gratitude for the gift of music.

Here is the exact version we used to play for him.



Thursday, December 15, 2011

My eight-year-old daughter chose today's Favorite Christmas Carol, "We Three Kings."

"I like this song because it tells about the Wise Men who came at Christmas. I used to think the gifts they brought to Jesus were kind of dumb. Who brings frankincense for a gift? I didn't even know what frankincense and myrrh were. Then I learned this song and it tells about it, and then I thought those were pretty cool gifts. And the song sounds all exotic and that's cool, too. Oh, and I like to sing it."

 She picked this version of the song because she liked hearing the kids sing it and the video was "cool." They don't sing the verses about the three gifts in this rendition, so I'll put those lyrics below the video.


The "Gift" Verses:

Born a king on Bethlehem's plain,
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign.

Frankincense to offer have I.
Incense owns a Deity nigh.
Prayer and praising all men raising,
Worship Him, God on high.

Myrrh is mine. Its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Today I hand the Christmas Carol reins over to my husband, Paul:

"My favorite Christmas song is "O, Holy Night." I love to listen to it because I love the message found in the lyrics. I also love to sing this song. Singing loud is sort of my thing and this song is great for singing loud."

Okay, this is Sarah again. I also love this song because it reminds me of my husband. See, back when we were relatively unacquainted I was the director of our church choir and he sang baritone in that choir. I spent all of September, October and November trying to formulate the perfect way to spend some uninterrupted time with the really hot guy with the AMAZING voice.

So I begged my mom to send me the arrangement of "O, Holy Night" that was at her house. See, I happened to enjoy playing that particular arrangement because it was challenging, beautiful and, most important of all to my devious little plan, very impressive sounding. My plan was to ask him to sing it as a solo for our Christmas service that year. This, of course, meant I'd need to arrange for a lot of practices, ya know, one-on-one. Then, I could hear him sing, he could hear me kick it on the piano and we could be mutually impressed with one another. Obviously this was a fantastic plan because we have now been married over 12 years and I still play that song regularly and he sings along. Aaahhh. *sigh*

Paul has selected this version, and I think he picked a great one.

O Helga Natt
performed by the late Swedish tenor, Jussi Bj√∂rling 


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Do you have a Christmas song or album that you listened to every single year as a child that, now, whenever you hear it absolutely means Christmas has started? I do. I really, really do.

For me, that album is Bing Crosby's Christmas album. "Christmas in Killarney," "Mele Kalikimaka," "Faith of our Fathers," "White Christmas." Man! There are so many great songs on that album.

A few days back I was braving the crowds out Holiday shopping and one of my all-time favorites from that album came on over the sound system at a store. I heard a young child the next row over squeal with excitement. "It's our Jingle Bells, Mom! It's our Jingle Bells."

A sea of Christmas memories flooded over me as I listened to the song play. You see, it is my Jingle Bells, too.

Take it away, Bing!


Monday, December 12, 2011

In the two weeks between today and Christmas, I'll be posting here some of my favorite Christmas carols, along with a little history of each, why I like them, or just a cop-out along the lines of "Isn't this snazzy?!"

Today's selection is one of my ultra-favorites. I always loved the tune, which I had heard over and over at Christmastime. Only as an adult did I discover the tune had lyrics and those lyrics were hauntingly beautiful.

The Conventry Carol is, perhaps, the oldest "Christmas carol" in existence. It dates from the 16th Century (so 1500s!!) and was originally part of a play put on in the city of Coventry, hence the name, that depicted the story of Jesus' birth and earliest years as told in the Gospel of Matthew. This tune and accompanying lyrics are the only piece of that play that hasn't been lost to history.

The lyrics are meant to represent the mourning and sorrow of a mother who, upon seeing the murderous rage of Herod the King, realizes that her child will suffer the same fate as the other young ones he has ordered killed by his soldiers. Fittingly, considering the subject matter, the traditional tune is in a decidedly minor key.

I have always loved the song because of its beautiful melody. Now that I know the words, I've come to love it that much more--it brings to life a moment in the life of the Savior and makes the time in which He lived that much more real and the people around Him who experienced those moments ever more human.

The Coventry Carol
performed by Collegium Vocale Gent of Flanders, Belgium

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

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

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

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Today's Friday Funny comes via, a site I don't recommend you go to unless you have a great deal of time on your hands. It sucks you in. You can't look away. There's no escaping. You go to look at one single entry and end up there for hours without realizing it!!!

All of my siblings will be together for Christmas for the first time in quite a few years. I am excited about it. We'll be crashing at my parents place--every single one of us! It'll be crowded and chaotic and probably really, really loud. So, in honor of the joys of siblings growing up to be friends, here's an entry from Awkward Family Photos' recent "Awkward Sibling Photo Contest," an older brother's approach to pushing his sister on the swing:

"A Little Push,"

Thursday, December 1, 2011

November was National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in which scads and scads of authors spend scads and scads of time writing scads and scads of words. The official goal is 50,000 words in 30 days. I joined the fun this year, but in a "sort of against the rules" way. Let me explain.
The official way to participate in NaNo is to write 50,000 words of a brand spankin' new manuscript. You can outline, create character sketches, make scene lists, etc. leading up to November, but on November 1st, the first word you write must be the first word of something new. That's not what I did, and I'll tell you why.
I've been working on a new manuscript that I am exceptionally excited about. I'd already written the first chunk of it and knew without a doubt that it wasn't working. Not quite. So my goal for November was to write until I uncovered the problem. That might take 50,000 words, might take 5. I just needed to figure it out.
That folks was quite the lengthy introduction to the actual topic of this post...

In the Writing Trenches:
Sometimes you just have to do the work

We recently had an addition built on to our quaint little circa-1940's house. A second bathroom, in fact. Home remodels are never smooth or fast or painless. We ran into a difficulty quite early on in this project. No one, including the city, had any idea where to find the pipe that connected the plumbing in our house to the city sewer. The information on file from back when the house was originally built proved extremely unhelpful. The sewer line, that paperwork informed us, ran perpendicular to the street from under the house 100 ft from.... something. Nowhere had anyone written down what that something was.
The builder did what anyone would. He guessed, based on logic and the hope that the easiest location was the correct one.
It wasn't. Problem being, the list of possible locations was somewhat long, some of those spots were harder to get to than others, some a little more far-fetched.
The only thing to do next was pick the option that made the most sense and dig. For almost 10 hours, two guys stood in front of my house digging with hand shovels straight down over the spot the builder thought might be the actual correct place. The hole they dug went 9 feet down and at the bottom of that hole... was a sewer hook up.
What does this lovely little story have to do with anything? I'll tell you.
As writers, sometimes our only option is to roll up our sleeves and do the work.
I knew early on in my latest project that I was off-target with my story, that something wasn't right. I spent weeks theorizing about what I should have been doing different, what was at the heart of the problem, how to salvage the story. But thinking about the problem only gets you so far.
I set aside the month of November to write as many words as it took for the problem to become clear. I kept going with the story as it was, but with a new awareness of the plot and characters. I jotted down any insights I had as I went. But I kept writing.
After a while the problems were obvious. An inconsistent character. Weak motivation (in a character, not in me), a need for a deeper conflict. I knew what was wrong, because I'd forced myself to find it.
How long did it take? 40,000 words, give or take a couple. By then I knew and I was ready to go back and fix it.
The take-away lesson here is simple: Writing is hard work, but not impossible. Push through it. Keep at it. Eventually you find the sewer line... er, you get it right.

Happy Writing!


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