Wednesday, December 31, 2008

December 31

It is New Year's Eve, and the final day of December.

Which means, it is time to close another year of The Musical Advent Calendar... today's selection, "New Year", by John Rutter (my favourite choral composer, if you haven't already noticed!), performed by The Cambridge Singers, will be the final one for 2008.

Please allow me once again to thank you all for reading, and for listening every day this month. I have enjoyed hearing from so many of you, from all over the world, and look forward to planning the music for next year's selections! I take such pleasure in knowing that the carols have brought joy to you. And this process has brought tremendous joy to me, as well-- during a difficult time, having this creative outlet to look forward to each day has helped me to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, and encouraged me to get beyond the stress, pressure and fatigue that most mothers face, as they struggle to "make" the holiday for their families. For that, I am truly grateful.

I would be telling a falsehood if I were to say that I am sorry to see the passing of 2008. Without a doubt, this year has been the most difficult period of my entire life. However, I can definitely say that there have been things over this past year that I have been truly thankful for.

I am first and foremost thankful for my family, and for the love, health and mutual support that we all enjoy. I am most thankful that my brother chose THIS year to end his world-travels and return home to us, and to a new and exciting career that has allowed him to live a blessedly short distance away. How I would have managed to come through these past few months without him, I don't even want to contemplate...

I am also thankful for my friends-- old and new. Once I was finally able to share my difficulties with some of them, I came to realize that I am far from alone in all of the chaos that 2008 has wrought. We all have our own trials to bear, hard decisions to make, and new directions to follow. But, if we can bring ourselves to let others in on our burdens, I have learned that they become much easier to shoulder. One of the things that has helped me the most this year has been to be allowed the privilege of emotionally supporting a few of my friends who are also hurting. Not only has it provided me with the opportunity to shift my mind from my own difficulties, but it has helped me to regain a sense of self-worth, to know that simply providing a listening ear and a helping hand has made a difference in the life of another person. And, of course, the deepening and strengthening of a personal relationship is a gift beyond all measure.

To my mind, 2009 should be made the year of "reaching out" to one another. Above all else this year, I have learned how much we all need each other. We need personal connections, and to feel more free about forming new relationships, beyond our "comfortable circles". At times like this, it does the heart a tremendous amount of good to know that others care. And if we could all muster the courage to reach out to a few new people with whom we might not otherwise have become involved, imagine what a difference it could make in the lives of others-- and your own life, too.

A sense of community. A sense of caring.
A strong, mutually-supportive society of friends.

That is my wish for all of you in 2009.

From my house to yours,

Love, blessings, peace...

And the happiest of New Years.

xoxo CGF

Turn your eyes to the light,

Turn your face to the sun,

New life, new light, new love and hope...

New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

To answer your question?

So am I.

December 30

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?
performed by Heavenly Harry Connick Jr.

Monday, December 29, 2008

December 29

"Adoration of the Magi" by Pranas Domsaitis

Here is the Little Door
a poem by Frances/G. K. Chesterton
scored for a capella choir by Herbert Howells
and performed by Chanticleer

Here is the little door, lift up the latch, oh lift!
We need not wander more but enter with our gift;
Our gift of finest gold,
Gold that was never bought nor sold;
Myrrh to be strewn about his bed;
Incense in clouds about his head;
All for the Child who stirs not in his sleep.
But holy slumber holds with ass and sheep.

Bend low about his bed, for each he has a gift;
See how his eyes awake, lift up your hands, O lift!
For gold, he gives a keen-edged sword
(Defend with it Thy little Lord!),
For incense, smoke of battle red.
Myrrh for the honoured happy dead;
Gifts for his children terrible and sweet,
Touched by such tiny hands and
Oh such tiny feet.

This is a carol for Epiphany, and is sung from the point of view of the Magi, who are approaching the infant Christ, born in a stable in Bethlehem. I find this carol to be positively mesmerising... the cautious anticipation of the Three Kings seeking the baby Jesus is so perfectly reflected in the soft, delicate opening of the piece. The melody builds in volume and emotional strength as the discovery is made, and the gifts are presented... Only to be reduced, once again, in the final line, to the intense humanity of the newborn Saviour, who, in spite of the awe-inspiring life they prophesize for him, is still just a wee babe, after all.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

December 28

The Virgin and Child Embracing
by Giovanni Battista Salvi Sassofrrato (1660-1685)

The Seven Joys of Mary
performed by The Choir of King's College, Cambridge
arranged by Stephen Cleobury

The very first joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of one
To see her blessed Jesus Christ
When He was first her Son
When He was Her first Son, Good Man;
And blessed may we be,
Both Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
To all eternity.

The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of two
To see her own son Jesus Christ,
To make the lame to go.
To make the lame to go, Good Man,
and blessed may we be,
Both Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
To all eternity.

The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of three
To see her own son Jesus Christ,
To make the blind to see.
To make the blind to see, Good Man,
and blessed may we be,
Both Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
To all eternity.

The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of four
To see her own son Jesus Christ,
To read the Bible o'er.
To read the Bible o'er, Good Man,
and blessed may we be,
Both Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
To all eternity.

The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of five
To see her own son Jesus Christ,
To bring the dead alive.
To bring the dead alive, Good Man,
and blessed may we be,
Both Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
To all eternity.

The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of six
To see her own son Jesus Christ,
Upon the Crucifix.
Upon the Crucifix, Good Man,
and blessed may we be,
Both Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
To all eternity.

The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of seven
To see her own son Jesus Christ,
To wear the crown of Heaven.
To wear the crown of Heaven, Good Man,
and blessed may we be,
Both Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
To all eternity.

This is another one of the many "counting carols" of Christmas, although traditionally, "The Joys of Mary" has been sung throughout the year. William Sandys, the author of "Carols Ancient and Modern" (1833), wrote that "...this [is] taken from popular broad-side carols, [and contains] rather curious legends, of which may have already been observed in the old carol for St. Stephen."

The earliest known version is in a manuscript of the fourteenth century, where it is entitled "Joyes Fyve." There are many, many different variations of the lyrics, however, and during my research this week, I have discovered as many as fifteen different verses. Of the many variations, the most generally accepted versions are "Joys Seven", and "The Twelve Joys of Mary". It is noted, however, that the extension of the Seven Joys to Twelve is confined to the northern parts of England, hence its tag of "The Newcastle Version".

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Life Lesson for the New Year...


from Pixar Studios

Friday, December 26, 2008

December 27

How Great Our Joy
by John Rutter
and performed by The Cambridge Singers

King John's Christmas

King John was not a good man —
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town,
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air —
And bad King John stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.

King John was not a good man,
And no good friends had he.
He stayed in every afternoon ...
But no one came to tea.
And, round about December,
The cards upon his shelf
Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,
And fortune in the coming year,
Were never from his near and dear,
But only from himself.

King John was not a good man,
Yet had his hopes and fears.
They’d given him no present now
For years and years and years.
But every year at Christmas,
While minstrels stood about,
Collecting tribute from the young
For all the songs they might have sung,
He stole away upstairs and hung
A hopeful stocking out.

King John was not a good man,
He lived his life aloof;
Alone he thought a message out
While climbing up the roof.
He wrote it down and propped it
Against the chimney stack:
And signed it not “Johannes R.”
But very humbly, “JACK.”

“I want some crackers,
And I want some candy;
I think a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I don’t mind oranges,
I do like nuts!
And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife
That really cuts.
And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man —
He wrote this message out,
And gat him to his room again,
Descending by the spout.
And all that night he lay there,
A prey to hopes and fears.
“I think that’s him a-coming now,
(Anxiety bedewed his brow.)
“He’ll bring one present, anyhow —
The first I’ve had for years.

“Forget about the crackers,
And forget about the candy;
I’m sure a box of chocolates
Would never come in handy;
I don’t like oranges,
I don’t want nuts,
And I HAVE got a pocket-knife
That almost cuts.
But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man —
Next morning when the sun
Rose up to tell a waiting world
That Christmas had begun,
And people seized their stockings,
And opened them with glee,
And crackers, toys and games appeared,
And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,
King John said grimly: “As I feared,
Nothing again for me!”

“I did want crackers,
And I did want candy;
I know a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I do love oranges,
I did want nuts.
I haven’t got a pocket-knife —
Not one that cuts.
And, oh! if Father Christmas had loved me at all,
He would have brought a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John stood by the window,
And frowned to see below
The happy bands of boys and girls
All playing in the snow.
A while he stood there watching,
And envying them all...
When through the window big and red
There hurtled by his royal head,
And bounced and fell upon the bed,
An india-rubber ball!


--A. A. Milne

December 26

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606 – 1669
The Adoration of the Shepherds (1646)

"The Shepherd's Farewell"
from Part II of L'enfance du Christ, Op.25
by Hector Berlioz
and performed by
The London Symphony Orchestra,
with The Tenbrae Choir

Thou must leave thy lowly dwelling,
The humble crib, the stable bare.
Babe, all mortal babes excelling,
Content our earthly lot to share.
Loving father, Loving mother,
Shelter thee with tender care!

Blessed Jesus, we implore thee
With humble love and holy fear.
In the land that lies before thee,
Forget not us who linger here!
May the shepherd's lowly calling,
Ever to thy heart be dear!

Blest are ye beyond all measure,
Thou happy father, mother mild!
Guard ye well your heav'nly treasure,
The Prince of Peace, The Holy Child!
God go with you, God protect you,
Guide you safely through the wild!

Hector Berlioz’s oratorio, "L’enfance du Christ" (The Infancy of Christ) is described as a "sacred trilogy", and tells the story of the birth of Jesus and the journey of the Holy Family as they escape Bethlehem and head across Egypt to the city of Sais. It began as an organ piece composed for Berlioz's friend, Joseph-Louis Duc, called "L'adieu des bergers", and gradually evolved into the larger choral work, for which Berlioz also wrote the words. The first of its three sections depicts King Herod ordering the massacre of all newborn children in Judaea; the second shows the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus setting out for Egypt to avoid the slaughter, having been warned by angels; and the final section portrays their arrival in the Egyptian town of Sais where they are given refuge by a family of Ishmaelites.

Berlioz's music was usually received with great hostility by Parisian audiences and critics, who generally accused it of being bizarre and discordant. And so, the composer had the chorus performed as a hoax on 12 November 1850, passing it off as the work of an imaginary 17th-century composer "Ducré". He was gratified to discover many people who hated his music were taken in and praised it, one lady even going so far as to say, "Berlioz would never be able to write a tune as simple and charming as this little piece by old Ducré".

Ab-so-lute-ly Typical...

Exit, CGF, chasing garbage truck down the street...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

December 25

The Adoration of the Magi by Peter Paul Reubens
from the altarpiece of The Chapel of King's College, Cambridge

Hark the Herald Angels Sing
performed by
The Choir of King's College, Cambridge

Adeste Fideles
performed by
Luciano Pavarotti

A very happy Christmas to you all!!

xoxo CGF

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

For Christmas Eve

"The Holy Night", by Anton Raphael Mengs

Away in a Manger
performed by The Cambridge Singers

Still, Still, Still
performed by The Cambridge Singers

Infant Holy
performed by The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge

What Sweeter Music
by John Rutter
and performed by The Cambridge Singers

Christmas Eve in Stratford

Love and blessings to you and your families,
this Christmas Eve...

May you all be surrounded by the people you love best.

I know I am.

xoxoxo CGF

Just a wee bit of snow...

SOME of us began the day, waist-deep in snow...

And some (slightly taller) people could just manage to wade through it. Amazing what you can do when you're desperate to make a snowman...

Thank goodness for Grandpa and his trusty snowblower (which I covet, I confess it), who enabled those of us crazy enough to try and reach the shops to actually get out of the driveway (and the house, too, for that matter)...

Meanwhile, in the garden...

Who do you suppose had more fun with snow this morning?
(Hint: It was actually Grandpa. Where do you think I get the obsession-with-large-power-tools gene from???!)

It has begun!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

December 24

Ding Dong Merrily On High
performed by The Choir of King's College, Cambridge

Ding dong merrily on high,
In heav'n the bells are ringing:
Ding dong! verily the sky
Is riv'n with angel singing.

Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

E'en so here below, below,
Let steeple bells be swungen,
And "Io, io, io!"
By priest and people sungen.

Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

Pray you, dutifully prime
Your matin chime, ye ringers;
May you beautifully rime
Your evetime song, ye singers.

Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

This tune first appeared as a secular dance tune known as "le branle de l'Official" in Orchésographie, a dance book written by Jehan Tabourot (1519-1593). The lyrics for "Ding Dong Merrily On High" were written by George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848-1934), a gentleman who was very interested in church bell ringing. The poem was first published in 1924. The macaronic style is characteristic of Woodward’s delight in archaic poetry. Charles Wood harmonised the tune when it was published with Woodward's text in The Cambridge Carol Book. More recently, Sir David Willcocks composed an arrangement for the second book of Carols for Choirs, which is the version heard as today's Advent Calendar selection.

Another Bloomin' Christmas!

An excerpt from our favourite Christmas movie,

"Father Christmas"

based upon the wonderful book by Raymond Briggs

Monday, December 22, 2008

December 23

I Saw Three Ships
performed by The Choir of King's College, Cambridge

I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas day in the morning.

And what was in those ships all three,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day?
And what was in those ships all three,
On Christmas day in the morning?

Our Savior Christ and His lady,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
Our Savior Christ and His lady,
On Christmas day in the morning.

Pray whither sailed those ships all three,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day?
Pray whither sailed those ships all three,
On Christmas day in the morning?

O they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
O they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas day in the morning.

And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas day in the morning.

And all the angels in Heav’n shall sing,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
And all the angels in Heav’n shall sing,
On Christmas day in the morning.

And all the souls on Earth shall sing,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
And all the souls on Earth shall sing,
On Christmas day in the morning.

Then let us all rejoice amain,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
Then let us all rejoice amain,
On Christmas day in the morning.

The carol, "I Saw Three Ships" dates back to 17th Century England (most likely Derbyshire-- where my father was born. Not in the 17th Century, however... He would want me to point that out).

There are many versions of the carol, and it is often found in books of nursery rhymes. The lyrics used here can be found in "Christmas Carols, An­cient and Mo­dern", by William Sandys, published in 1833.

A bit of bliss for Monday...

"Che gelida manina" from Puccini's "La Bohème" Act I. Luciano Pavarotti (Rodolfo), Ileana Cotrubas (Mimì), Teatro alla Scala, 1979

Today is the birthday of one of my favourite composers: Giacomo Puccini, who was born in Lucca, Tuscany in 1858. He wrote many wonderful operas, including Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and the sublime La Bohème, which was written in 1896.

La Bohème was the very first opera that I remember ever experiencing. One Saturday afternoon when I was about eight or nine years old, my parents gathered the family around our brand spankin' new colour television, so that we could see "The King of the High C's", Luciano Pavarotti, perform the role of Rodolpho in a live broadcast... My mother and father's rapturous enthusiasm was contagious, and I remember being captivated by the story and the wonderful music for the entire blissful afternoon.

It was an "ear-opening" experience.

One doesn't really NEED to know what the translation of the words for this aria are... the soaring melody, Pav's incomparable technique and expression practically tells it all... But, perhaps it would help you to know that this aria is sung at the point in the story where the two lovers, Rodolpho and Mimi, first meet in a dark, cold stairwell. Mimi has lost the key to her door, and while helping her look for it, Rodolpho brushes her tiny, cold hand with his own.

Here is what he sings to her, translated into English. Swoon away-- I always do...

What a frozen little hand, let me warm it for you.

What's the use of looking? We won't find it in the dark.

But luckily it's a moonlit night, and the moon is near us here.

Wait, mademoiselle, I will tell you in two words,

who I am, what I do, and how I live. May I?

Who am I? I am a poet. What do I do? I write. And how do I live? I live.

In my carefree poverty I squander rhymes and love songs like a lord.

When it comes to dreams and visions and castles in the air, I've the soul of a millionaire.

From time to time two thieves steal all the jewels out of my safe, two pretty eyes.

They came in with you just now, and my customary dreams my lovely dreams,

melted at once into thin air! But the theft doesn't anger me,

for their place has been taken by hope!

Now that you know all about me, you tell me who you are. Please do!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

December 22

"The Annunciation to the Shepherds" by Adam Pynacker, 1640

The Shepherd's Carol
by Robert Chilcott
and performed by the Choir of St John's Church
Elora, Ontario, Canada

Christmastime's a-coming...

"Christmastime's a-coming",
performed by Canada's own Raffi

... And I know I'm going home.

I think.

People, I am in need of some SERIOUS cattle-prodding to get me revved up to pack suitcases today... And it might help if I actually attacked Mt. Washmore and ran laundry, beforehand.

This is the part of "holidays" that I always have the most difficulty with. You mothers out there all know what I'm talking about: The part where the effort to get ready for the holiday seems to by far outweigh the potential pleasures of actually being away.

As well as the laundry and packing, there's the small issue of shovelling out this midden (because nothing says "Happy New Year!" like coming home to a CLEAN house), preparing the menagerie of animals to be cared for in our absence, rounding up about a zillion library books to be returned before we leave, so as to avoid outrageous overdue fines... and oh... any number of other things. You'd think I'd have a list for all of this, but today, for the first time in my whole life, I'm literally flying by the seat of my pants. And definitely. NOT. "up".

We'll see what gets accomplished. We'll see. Right now, with snow steadily falling outside my window (we're expecting another 20 cm today... $#@*&!!!), the temptation is GREAT to throw a few logs on the fire, put my feet up, and knit the day away... I'm still working on that tiny, green sweater for Wee three, as well as ANOTHER Noro scarf (I. just. can't. stop.), some Noro socks (YES! They make sock yarn, too!!), and a pair of warm little matching hats for Child Number Two and Wee Three...

Don't get me started. Because you KNOW I'll plop my bottom down on that sofa, start juggling projects, and the next thing I know, it will be tomorrow...


There are a few things that are cheering me up this morning, though. The girlies have been up for hours, and when I came down this morning, I found a few little pre-Christmas gifts waiting for me. On the front of my dishwasher, spelled out in magnetic letters:

Child Number Two's work. Insert sound of my heart melting *here*

And on the kitchen table, I found this little masterpiece:

By Wee Three

Is this not fantastically expressive?! I just love watching the slow, steady evolution of my children's drawing skills. It is fascinating to see the free-hand "scribbles" gradually change into shapes, and take form as details are noticed and added to the work. All of a sudden, "Mr Blobby" sprouts arms and legs, hair... and then the subjects are placed within little environments, and a whole story develops.

Wee Three says that this is a picture of "Sisters"... And I'm wondering what all of you think of it? Can you imagine what the little characters are saying to one another? The possibilities are truly endless. And this has gotten me to thinking...

How about a little contest, here at "I Can Fly, Just Not Up"? I have been extremely fortunate to have received some lovely emails from several of my readers, recently. To me, there could be no greater Christmas gift than getting to know all of you. I value every, single comment, and the letters you send me are so gratifying. I try very hard to answer every one of them, and do so enjoy getting to know a little about you, your families and the places where you live. I would love it if you would email me with your ideas for a caption for Wee Three's "Sisters" drawing. And on Boxing Day (December 26th) I will post a list of my favourites, and announce the winning entry.

The winner will receive a gift in the mail from me: a box of the finest hand-made chocolate in the entire world, from Stratford, Ontario's own Chocolate Barr's. The mere thought of this candy makes my mouth water, and happy little endorphins bounce around in my brain... And in twenty-four short hours, I shall once again be in the same town as this magical, addictive emporium...

And if THAT'S not a good enough reason to get onto that laundry and filling up suitcases-- PRONTO-- I don't know what is.

Put your thinking caps on, and send me your entries by midnight, EST, on December 25th, to:

Good luck! I am so looking forward to your emails.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate every, single one of you.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

December 21

Stained Glass Window by Herbert William Bryans
at St Andrew's Church, Holt, Norfolk.

The Holy Boy
music by John Ireland, poem by Herbert S. Brown
performed by pianist Eric Parkin
and also by Chorus Angelicus and Gaudeamus

Lowly, laid in a manger,
With oxen brooding nigh,
The Heav’nly Babe is lying
His Maiden Mother by.

Lo! the wayfaring sages,
Who journey’d far through the wild,
Now worship, silent, adoring,
The Boy, The Heav’nly Child –
The Heav’nly Child!

Leave your work and your play-time,
And kneel in homage and prayer.
The Prince of Love is smiling
Asleep in His cradle there!

Bend your heart to the wonder,
The Birth, the Mystery mild,
And worship, silent, adoring,
The Boy, The Heav’nly Child –
The Heav’nly Child!

Dim the light of the lantern,
And bare the mean abode,
Yet gold and myrrh and incense,
Proclaim the Son of God.

Lowly, laid in a manger,
By Virgin undefiled,
Come worship, silent, adoring,
The boy, The Heav’nly Child –
The Heav’nly Child!

A life lesson at Christmastime...

Friday, December 19, 2008

December 20

"The Nativity of Christ" , by Vladimir Borovikovsky, late 18th to early 19th century

In The Bleak Midwinter
a poem by Christina Rossetti
set to music by Gustav Holst, and performed by the St Olaf Choir
also arranged by Harold Edwin Darke, and performed by
The Choir of King's College, Cambridge

In the bleak midwinter
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 midwinter,
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign;
In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed
The Lord God incarnate,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for him, whom Cherubim
Worship night and day
A breast full of milk
And a manger full of hay.
Enough for him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
which adore.

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.

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.

"In the Bleak Midwinter" began as a poem by Christina Rossetti, written before 1872, in response to a request by the magazine "Subscriber's Monthly" for a Christmas submission. It was published posthumously in Rossetti's Poetic Works in 1904, and became a carol after it was set to music by Gustav Holst. It first appeared in The English Hymnal in 1906.

Another setting, written by Harold Edwin Darke, was performed in the early 20th century. The Darke version, with its beautiful and delicate organ accompaniment, gained popularity after the choir of King's College, Cambridge included it on its world-renowned radio broadcasts of The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Mr. Darke was the conductor of the choir during World War II.

I have posted these two different settings of "In the Bleak Midwinter" here today. The King's College version is my favourite (though I admit to being rawther biased). I feel that Mr. Darke's descending melody line gives the carol an air of vulnerability, somehow... It makes the words feel more like a story, which suits the "child-like" last verse, especially. The second version, which is the Gustav Holst tune, is sung a capella by the St. Olaf Choir. It fascinates me, even though I prefer Mr. Darke's musical arrangement. I love the way the music of each stanza is set so differently: the choir varies the tempo and the volume of the piece with each successive verse, thus constantly changing the emotional element of the song. Most interestingly, though, they occasionally change KEYS at the beginning of some verses, which helps to emphasize the words and subject matter of the original poem. All of this, combined with wonderfully complex harmonies, makes for quite a remarkable performance.

Here Amid the Winter Snow...

What a day.

We're one storm into Blizz-a-palooza,
up here in the Great White North...

The family that shovels together stays together...
(child labour laws bedamned!)

Because let's face it:

If we don't shovel together,
we'll be stuck in here together. Forever.

Dear Santa:
Please bring me a shiny, red snowblower.

xoxo CGF

Thursday, December 18, 2008

December 19

Santa Claus is Comin' to Town
performed by (Sweet Baby) James Taylor

Francis P. Church, The New York Sun's religious-affairs reporter, took on the task of answering a seemingly simple question, posed to him in a letter from an inquisitive little girl, and his eloquent response has provided an answer for children-- and adults-- for over a century.


Dear Editor:

I am 8 years old.

Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.

Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun it's so." Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

- Virginia O'Hanlon


Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

No Santa Claus! You might not as well believe in fairies! You might get your Papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, because that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.

No Santa Claus! Thank God, he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

-- The New York Sun, September 21, 1897


ps. I finished the Christmas shopping today. Virtual high-five!!

Dear Santa...

She mailed her letter today...
all by her wee self.


Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and then combine:

2 c all purpose flour
3/4 c corn starch
1 c icing sugar
1 c softened butter

Mix all the ingredients together well, until it is a "dough-like" consistency... I am always amazed at the incredible silkiness of this dough-- it is so beautifully smooth, as a result of the cornstarch!

Roll the dough out on a cool, lightly-floured surface, to a 1/2 inch thickness. Cut out small circles, or long "finger" shapes. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, about two inches apart.

Bake in the middle of the oven for about 10 or 15 minutes... just until the cookies are slightly golden around the edges.

Remove from the oven, and while the cookies are still hot on the baking sheet, sprinkle the tops with granulated sugar. Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so, before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Best enjoyed with a cup of tea, and a wee girlie munching away
and drinking hot chocolate alongside you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

December 18

The Nativity by Federico Barocci (c. 1535-1612)

The Nativity Carol
by John Rutter
and performed by The Cambridge Singers

Little Girls...

It's happening again.

Today, my Wee Three came home from junior kindergarten, fell into my arms, and began to sob.

Not the kind of weeping indulged in by an overstimulated, overtired child. This was the kind of crying that emits straight from a little person's heart, when that heart has been trodden on and squelched.

"I... had... a BAAAAD DAAAAY!!!" she hic-coughed, when she could catch enough breath to form words.

I immediately scooped her up in my arms, and carried her over to the couch, where we snuggled down together under an afghan, so that she could tell me all about it.

Wee Three is one of the littlest people in her class... and truth be told, I had serious, serious trepidations about putting her in public school this year. Although she was "of age" by September, I wasn't entirely convinced that she was emotionally ready to deal with a large, boisterous classroom with less adult-to-child supervision, after her two blissful years at a wonderful nursery school. I was deeply concerned that junior kindergarten would be too dramatic a change for her, and that she would be put-off of "big school" from the get-go.

My feelings changed, however, when she was awarded a placement in the same class as her best little friend in the whole-wide-world... the daughter of one of my own most cherished friends. As mothers, we agreed that our girls having one another for support would be a boon for them both-- they are emotionally bonded enough to be like sisters to one another, and yet, in larger social situations, the two of them easily form new friendships, and include other children in their play.

We have had a few days this school year when one or the other of them has been ill, and had to remain at home. The "at-school" child has fared pretty well alone, and so I didn't have any major qualms about my Wee One this week... For this is the week that her special friend has taken an extended Christmas vacation, and flown off to her Grandma and Grandpa's house for the holidays.

Monday went pretty well. Yesterday, too.

But today, not so much.

Today, my daughter had her first real experience with bullying. And for the first time, there was no-one there who "had her back", so to speak.

One little ringleader apparently formed a "club" at playtime, and included every female member of the class. Invited them to join, even. But when MY little one asked to play, too, she was refused. Not only that, the other children in the "club" were instructed by the ringleader that they were not to play with Wee Three.

These children are THREE, FOUR and FIVE YEARS OLD.

It's starting even younger than it did with Child Number One, who was in second grade before any of this organized nastiness first reared its ugly head...

And I have learned a lot since then.

I have learned that parents MUST be pro-active when it comes to bullying. We must not stand idly by, and hope it will "blow over". We must not accept teachers' misguided reassurances that little girls are by nature "changeable" creatures, and that "tomorrow, everyone will be friends again".

Tomorrow, I am going to approach the ringleader's mother in the school playground. And I will relay my daughter's experience. If necessary, I will include the teacher and the children in a discussion. Because I'm going to nip this in the bud-- NOW-- in a firm, calm, respectful manner.

And I'm going to show my little girl that it is okay to speak up when she is deliberately and maliciously excluded from a group. Okay to value herself enough to be assertive.

It is more than okay.

It is essential.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

December 17

"O Christmas Tree"
played by Canada's very own
Oscar Peterson

bless his heart for making me love this tune again...

"...I have to do quite a bit of trimming
for it's Christmas Eve tonight
trim trinkles and drinkles and sklinkles of glass
Trim everything in sight

We hang everything on our Christmas tree
Ornaments big and bright
and all of these sparkling icicles
and twirling balls of white

I always hang a star on top
with angels in between
Here's how many lights we have--
Thirty-seven and sixteen...

Then I must lie down and smell the pine
and gaze at the Christmas star
Perchance to feel in these piney pine needles
just where
my presents are..."

--excerpt from "Eloise at Christmastime", by Kay Thompson
illustrated by the ingenious Hilary Knight

Monday, December 15, 2008

December 16

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
sung by the immortal Judy Garland
from the film, "Meet Me In St. Louis"

I have just put one of my dearest friends on a flight home for the Christmas holidays today... and I'm missing her, and her three wonderful children, keenly tonight. However, I know in my heart that they'll all be overwhelmingly loved and cherished by The Grandparents-- just as they deserve to be.

Merry Christmas, sweetie. Relax. Enjoy.

Hurry home.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

December 15

Adoration of the Shepherds (1535-40), by Agnolo Bronzino

Jesus Child
by John Rutter, and performed by
The Cambridge Singers

Saturday, December 13, 2008

December 14

Madonna and Child c. 1340-45, by Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

A Hymn to the Virgin
Anonymous, c. 1300, with music by Benjamin Britten
performed by Polyphony

Of on that is so fayr and bright
Velut maris stella,
Brighter than the day is light,
Parens et puella:
Ic crie to the, thou see to me,
Levedy, preye thi Sone for me,
Tam pia,
That ic mote come to thee

Al this world was for-lore
Eva peccatrice,
Tyl our Lord was y-bore
De te genetrice.
With ave it went away
Thuster nyth and comz the day
The welle springeth ut of the,

Levedy, flour of alle thing,
Rose sine spina,
Thu bere Jhesu, hevene king,
Gratia divina:
Of alle thu ber'st the pris,
Levedy, quene of paradys
Mayde milde, moder es

Recently, I have been very fortunate to have been contacted by a lovely lady who has been reading my blog, and listening to the Christmas carols. We have been corresponding for the past several days, and I have been so delighted by her writing, her warmth and good counsel.

Yesterday, she wrote something that struck a deep chord in me... We had been discussing motherhood, and the challenges we both face. She said that she had suddenly realized that as women,"WE create Christmas. Even in tough times. It's up to us."

She is so right. It is up to us. That is how Christmas began, after all. With a new mother, just doing the very best she could, in the circumstances she found herself under. Trying to be a good woman, against all odds. Just like all of us.

Hence, the choice of carol today, the "Hymn to the Virgin". A beautiful, thirteenth-century verse, dedicated to an extraordinary woman, devoted wife and loving mother, who did the very best she could, for her child, and for her family, on that first Christmas Night.

I'm officially obsessed.

Guess what I found this morning, while researching tomorrow's entry for the Musical Advent Calendar?

This fourteenth-century painting, by Betram von Minden.

WHY does this work excite me so much?

Apparently, it is the oldest picture in Western history depicting the use of double-pointed knitting needles.

The Noro yarn?

Is seriously affecting my brain...

Friday, December 12, 2008

December 13

"Madonna della Paglia": Madonna of the Straw
Sir Anthony Van Dyck (Flemish, 1599-1641)

Dormi, Jesu!
(The Virgin's Cradle-Hymn)
Words by S. T. Coleridge, arranged by John Rutter
sung by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge

Dormi, Jesu! Mater ridet
Quae tam dulcem somnum videt,
Dormi, Jesu! blandule!

Si non dormis, Mater plorat,
Inter fila cantans orat,
Blande, veni, somnule.

Sleep, sweet babe! my cares beguiling:
Mother sits beside thee smiling;
Sleep, my darling, tenderly!

If thou sleep not, mother mourneth,
Singing as her wheel she turneth:
Come, soft slumber, balmily!

The lyrics of Dormi Jesu were taken from an original Latin verse found under an engraving by Hieronymus Wierix, titled "The Virgin Sewing While Angels Rock Her Son to Sleep". English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote a poetic version of the Latin verse, which he then published in Sibylline Leaves under the title The Virgin's Cradle-Hymn, in 1817.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

December 12

Gerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst (1590–1656), "Adoration of the Children" (1620)

"Silent Night"
performed by the Elora Festival Singers
of Elora, Ontario, Canada

The Story of Silent Night, "The Song from Heaven"
as told by Lisa Granfield

Father Josef Mohr was born in 1792. He sang sacred music as a boy, became a priest, and was appointed to the Church of St. Nicola in Oberndorf, Austria.

Franz Xaver Bruger, born in 1787, studied to become a teacher and, in 1807, became the schoolmaster and organist in Arnsdorf, a village near Oberndorf. Father Mohr and Gruber became friends when the teacher traveled to play the organ at St. Nicola.

On the day before Christmas, 1818, the church organ was broken. Perhaps the constant damp from the nearby Salzach River had rusted parts of the instrument.

A more entertaining explanation involves hungry mice. Driven inside by the fierce wither cold, the tiny animals found the organ's leather bellows very tasty. Consequently, the mice chewed a hole that crippled the instrument.

Since unaccompanied singing was unpopular in those days, Father Mohr asked Gruber to compose music for the verses he'd written for that day. Within a few hours, Gruber matched notes to the words of the new song for voice and guitar that eventually became known as "Silent Night".

After the holiday, Karl Mauracher was called to repair the organ. It is believed that he took the new song home with him and shared it with musicians and singers he met. "Stille Nacht", however, became a forgotten title. The song was called "The Song From Heaven" and was said to be of "unknown origin".

During the mid-1800's, groups of strolling, family singers performed in the streets and often gave concerts. The talented Strasser family were such a group of entertainers. The four Strasser children performed "The Song From Heaven" whenever their glove-maker parents traveled to fairs to sell their goods. By 1832, the Strassers had taken the song to Leipzig and introduced it to German audiences.

In 1839, another singing family, the Rainers, took the song to the United States and performed it for delighted audiences. "The Song From Heaven" was soon included in prayer books and hymnals.

As the song's popularity grew, Father Mohr and Gruber were all but forgotten. Some people believed that "The Song From Heaven" had been written by Mozart, Beethoven, or Franz Joseph Haydn's brother, Johann Michael. Others thought it was a Tyrolean folk song.

In 1854, musical authorities in Berlin sent to Salzburg and asked if the Haydn manuscript was in St. Peter's Church. As it happened, Felix Gruber, Franz's youngest son, was a choirboy at the church. He told his father about the request.

Gruber had left St. Nicola in 1829 and was living near Salzburg in Hallein. He attempted to settle the debate by writing a document entitled "The Authentic Occasion for the Writing of the Christmas Song 'Silent Night, Holy Night'".

Thirty-six years after "Stille Nacht" was first performed in a cold village church, its worldwide audience finally learned the identities of its humble and gifted creators.

Father Mohr left St. Nicola in 1819. He died and was buried in Wagrain in December, 1848. His friend Gruber lived until 1863.

One of the most moving stories about the song took place during the horrors of World War I. On Christmas Eve, 1914, in the dark European trenches, the freezing men awaited the next attack by the enemy soldiers across no man's land. But there was no shooting. Only silence. Afraid to peer over the top of the trench, the British soldiers quietly sat and listened to the rising sound of men's voices singing.

When they dared to look across the battle-scarred terrain, the British saw the gleam of tiny lights, as the Germans lit candles on small Christmas trees in their trenches. "Stille Nacht" filled the air as the German soldiers observed the holy eve of peace.

In a desolate landscape far from home, the soldiers of both sides called a truce. They embraced, shared cigars, chocolate and sausages. On Christmas Day, they played soccer on the battlefield.

The unofficial truce lasted for days but, eventually, the men returned to the business at hand-- war-- for nearly four more years.

After World War I, the popularity of "Silent Night" continued to grow. In the 1920's and 30's, radio listeners heard the song performed by many singers, including Franz Gruber's own grandson who played it on Father Mohr's guitar.

Famous contralto, Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink, sang "Stille Nacht" each Christmas Eve on the radio in what became a holiday tradition for families around the world. "Mother" Schumann-Heink also recorded it for play on phonographs. Translations enabled people everywhere to share the song.

The deteriorating original Church of St. Nicola was torn down around 1900. The small Stille Nacht Kapelle (Silent Night Chapel) was built in Oberndorf to commemorate Father Josef Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber and, every Christmas Eve, a special service is held outside the chapel.

Whether it is heard in a show-covered Alpine village or under a blazing African sky, "Silent Night" invites us to reflect on the meaning of Christmas and to "sleep in heavenly peace".

This marvellous excerpt is from the children's book, "Silent Night: The Song from Heaven". It was written by Linda Granfield, and the illustrations are by Nelly and Ernest Hofer. I cannot recommend this wonderful book highly enough-- it should be a part of every child's Christmas book collection.

Betty's bang-on, once again...

With the failure of the "Big 3 Bail-out" in the US... I am thinking of all the auto workers, Canadian and American, who fear for their jobs and their futures tonight.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

December 11

"The Nativity at Night" by Geertgen tot Sint Jans, about 1490

Sweet Little Jesus Boy
Words and Music by Robert MacGimsey (1898–1979), 1932
and performed by the incomparable Jessye Norman

Sweet little Jesus Boy
They made You be born in a manger
Sweet little Holy child
Didn't know who You was.

Didn't know You'd come to save us Lord
To take our sins away.
Our eyes was blind;
We couldn't see
We didn't know who You was.

Long time ago You was born
Born in a manger low,
Sweet little Jesus Boy.

The world treat You mean Lord,
Treat me mean too.
But that's how things is down here,
we didn't know t'was You.

You done showed us how,
we is trying.
Master, You done showed us how,
even when you's dying.

Just seem like we can't do right,
look how we treated You.
But please, Sir, forgive us Lord;
We didn't know 'twas You.

Sweet little Jesus Boy
Born long time ago,
Sweet little Holy child
And we didn't know who You was.

Robert MacGimsey wrote this carol after walking past crowded speak-easies in New York City on Christmas Eve, 1932. Intended as an art song, it became one of many quasi-spirituals.

MacGimsey explained to Robin White in 1966, "This is not so much a song as just a meaning. You have to imagine an aging Negro standing off in the middle of a field just giving his heart to Jesus in the stillness."

"He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.
He came unto His own, and His own received Him not."
John 1:10-11

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

December 10

"Madonna of the Rose Garden"
by Stefan Lochner, about 1450

King Jesus Hath a Garden
performed by the choir of Clare College, Cambridge

King Jesus hath a garden, filled with divers flow'rs
where I go culling posies gay, all times and hours.

There naught is heard but Paradise bird,
harp, dulcimer, lute, with cymbal,
trump and tymbal, and the tender soothing flute.

The Lily white in blossom there, is Chastity:
the Violet, with sweet perfume, Humility.

The Crown Imperial bloometh too in yonder place,
'tis charity, of stock divine, the flow'r of grace.

Yet, 'mid the brave, the bravest prize of all may claim
The Star of Bethlem-Jesus-bless'd be his Name!

Ah! Jesu Lord, my heal and weal, my bliss complete,
make thou my heart thy garden plot, fair, trim and neat.

That I may hear this musick clear,
harp, dulcimer, lute, with cymbal,
trump and tymbal, and the tender soothing flute.

This is a traditional Dutch carol, entitled "Heer Jesus heeft een Hofken"
from Geestlijcke Harmonie, written in 1633
Translated into English by George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848-1934)

Okay, NOW I get it...

Why didn't they just explain it like this in economics class???

The view from here...

Gratuitous photo of some of the spectacularly gorgeous Noro scarves that I've been knitting obsessively. Yes, I'm bragging. But knitting with this yarn is so satisfyingly addictive, who cares???!

The lovely and talented Sarah, from "Slouching Past Forty" has challenged us to a meme... And to give you a little break from all the Christmas music, I though I'd give it a try. The fact that I'm stuck at home with small children while copious amounts of snow and sleet dump down outside has NOTHING to do with this.

Ha ha.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you The Goddess' Desk:

Cleaned up version, of course. Trust me when I tell you that it will NOT look like this for long.

This is where I do most of my blogging, from a little alcove tucked in a corner of my kitchen. It's what we call the "command centre". I love the fact that I can pull down the roll-top, and hide my usually disastrous desk-top from view. However, almost all of my music collection has been stored on this computer, which means that the mess is usually fully exposed so that I can use the speakers and sub-woofer. Someday I'll get organized and hook the works into our stereo system...

The second part of the meme is to take a photo of the view from the place that I blog... All the things I can see from my chair. Since the desk is actually a part of the cabinetry, I will swivel my chair around for you:


Where's Mr Clean when you need him???


I confess. The command centre is not the only place where I blog... We shall now endeavor to block the mess out of our minds for a moment (after three children, I have nearly perfected this avoidance technique, for reasons of sanity-preservation). We will now go in search of my laptop:

Aaaaahh. Much better.

The view from here?

Let it snow.

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