Friday, December 31, 2010

Fast away the old year passes...

Wishing you all the very

happiest of New Years!!

Much love (and warm fuzzies) from CGF xoxo

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Third Day After Christmas.

Well, folks... it's official.

There's been a death confirmed here in our household, and it's a dirty situation, I'm afraid.

Yesterday, with the first batch of company having departed from this steaming heap my family and I call home, I settled in to some seriously heavy cleaning, before the second and third parties requiring High Entertainment arrived.

The kitchen required special attention, as you can imagine. Cupboards were swept out and reorganized, counters were wiped down, the oven was blasted with serious chemical warfare, the garbage was emptied, and all receptacles were thoroughly sterilized.

It was a Reformation, I tell you.

And, as with most efforts that are undertaken in this house, things looked a lot worse before they began to look better.

Whenever I clean like a demonically possessed whirling dervish, I actually DO have a strategy that I try to stick to: I start at the ceiling, and work my way down to the floor. Gravity is my friend, in this case (un-like the case of my developing facial jowls and droopy rear end. But I digress...)

Whatever filth that is swept, scraped, or blow-torched off of surfaces eventually lands on the floor, which is then vacuumed, and then duly scrubbed. In this way, I am fairly well assured of collapsing in exhaustion upon a relatively clean (albeit more than slightly damp) surface, once the ordeal is complete. This technique also puts me in a position to view the cats' feet, as they ick their way through the puddles, and then plop their dirty little botts down on a dry patch beside me.

All was going well, yesterday. So well, that the condition of the kitchen went from simply "horrible" to damn near "VILE". Crumbs and cobwebs were flying, not to mention smatterings of leftover currants and sugar sprinkles... All were duly swept "downwards".

And then, I climbed down off of my step stool, crunched over to the broom cupboard, and reached for my beloved and ancient vacuum cleaner. I plugged it into the kitchen outlet, but instead of the reassuring "SWOOSH" that usually greets my grateful ears, I heard... nothing.

I checked the power outlet, then the breaker switch. All in good order.

Panicking more than just a little, I cracked open my old friend's chest, so to speak, and began attempting emergency resuscitation: I cleaned the filter, and replaced the bag.

Still nothing.

No "heartbeat".

And definitely no "swoosh".

I then called in the paramedics, in the form of Sue down at the local VacMaster Centre. She rushed right over, as she always does.

But, sadly, this time, there was nothing she could do. She pronounced my beloved dead-on-arrival.

And, once she had recovered from the sight of the horror in my kitchen, she offered her deepest sympathy, in the form of a significant discount on a much newer, sleeker model.

My new Partner-In-Cleaning promises to be everything my old friend was, and MORE: never again will I have to make a late-night run to Sue's establishment, and pound on the door (having been locked-up only moments before) BEGGING for replacement bags. This baby's got serious cyclonic action, and a receptacle that requires nothing more than to be emptied into the trash after several months of use (or, more likely in our case, every week or so). It's even got a zippered "sleeping bag" type of sleeve that encases the hose, to protect my oh-so-delicate floors and the legs of various pieces of furniture (har-de-har... Well, at least it will no longer make that disgusting rrrrrrrriiiiiipppppp-ing noise every time I haul it around sharp corners).

Yes, there's been a death in the family, 'tis true. Our household is in serious disarray at the moment, but not for long. For tomorrow morning at nine o'clock, my shiny new friend will be ceremoniously installed, and the old corpse hauled away to the recycling depot.

I have to say:

This must be the only occasion upon which I've been truly happy to report that something in my life "really sucks".

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Aftermath.

It's The Day After... and I'm doing my best to dig us out, after one heckuva Christmas around here. My experience over the past decade-and-a-half has been that the more mess we make, the more fun we've had. And, the more holes on our belts we will have to expand, once the shortbread and eggnog hit home.

In that case?

We've had one of the best Christmases ever.

Cheers, everyone!

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Happy Christmas!

"Adoration of the Shepherds"
by Francois Boucher, 1750

Born On A New Day
by John Rutter, and performed by
The Cambridge Singers

You are the new day.
Meekness, love, humility,
Come down to us this day:
Christ, your birth has proved to me,
You are the new day.

Quiet in a stall you lie,
Angels watching from the sky
Whisper to you from on high,
'You are the new day.'

When our life is darkest night,
Hope has burned away,
Love, your ray of guiding light,
Show us the new day.

Love of all things great and small,
Leaving none, embracing all,
Fold around me where I fall,
Bring in the new day.

This new day will be
A turning point for everyone,
If we let the Christ-child in,
And reach for the new day.

Christ, the Way, the Truth, the Life,
Healing sadness, mending strife,
You we welcome, Lord of Life.
Born on a new day,
You are the new day.

I thank you all for reading, and for listening to
the Musical Advent Calendar this Christmas. It has been such a pleasure
to be with you all again this year. Thank you for your comments,
your emails, and good wishes.

Wishing you a wonderful, blessed Christmas,
surrounded by all those whom you love best!

xoxo CGF

For Christmas Eve

Silent Night
performed by The Elora Festival Singers

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.

For my children...

"Santa Claus is Comin' to Town"
performed by Johnny Bregar

Okay, kids... BEHAVE. Because not only is Santa Claus is comin' to town...

So are Gramma and Grampa.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

December 24

"Adoration of the Magi"
by Peter Paul Reubens (1577-1640)

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

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 that is commonly performed 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 it to be positively mesmerising... the reverent anticipation of the Three Kings seeking the baby Jesus is so perfectly reflected in the soft, delicate opening of the piece. The Kings, who have travelled together for so long, seeking the infant Christ, sing in perfect unity as the discovery is made, and their gifts are presented. There is a dramatic juxtaposition between the purity and innocence of the tiny newborn child, and the future that they predict for him, which is foreshadowed in their offerings. As the tone of the poem changes in the second verse, composer Herbert Howells amplifies the melody both dynamically and harmonically. The choir sings in unison the ferocious line, "Defend with it Thy little lord!", only to be reduced once again to the realization of the humanity of the newborn Saviour, who, in spite of the awe-inspiring life they prophesised for him, is still just a wee babe, after all.

It has long been debated as to who actually penned the words to this lovely poem. G. K. Chesterton was a noted English author (1874-1936), but his wife, Frances, was also a gifted writer. She penned many Christmas-themed pieces, including poems, stories, a short play, and the lovely children's carol, "How Far is it to Bethlehem?" G. K. Chesterton is given an author credit for "Here is the Little Door" in many scholarly publications, and the use of paradox in the verse would seem to fit with the style of a great deal of his writing. However, I feel that it is important to give credit to both authors, since there is evidence of both possibilities.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

December 23

Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds
by Govert Teunisz Flinck, 1639

The Shepherd's Carol
by Bob Chilcott, and performed by
The Choir of St John's Church, Elora.

Today, we change our focus from the Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem, and hear the Shepherds' description of their encounter with angels on Christmas Eve. This is another "modern" carol, but it is one that is being performed more and more, by choral ensembles world-wide. Although it is not a strictly "melodic" work, it creates a beautiful sound-picture of the Shepherds' experience: the music begins with several tiny voices, and builds in harmony and intensity until the listener can hear the choirs of angels, and imagine their heavenly light. And, once the angels have delivered their message and fade away into the night sky, so do the chorister's voices. I discovered this carol several years ago on an early recording of The Choir of St John's Church, Elora, and it is this performance that I offer you today, in the music player on the right.

Bob Chilcott is one of the most active composers and choral conductors in Britain today. He has been involved in choral music most of his life, and was once a chorister in The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. He is quite well known for having sung the “Pie Jesu” on the renowned 1967 King’s recording of Faure’s Requiem, conducted by Sir David Willcocks. He returned to King’s as a Choral Scholar, and between 1985 and 1997 was a member of the British vocal group The King’s Singers. He has been a full-time composer since 1997.

Every year, King's College, Cambridge commissions a new carol for their choir to sing at the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. "The Shepherd's Carol" was written for, and performed at, the Millennium year's service. Below, I have included the video of this lovely performance.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December 22

"The Star of Bethlehem"
watercolour, by Edward Burne-Jones
completed for the City of Birmingham in 1890,
to commemorate their new Museum and Art Gallery.

Star in the South
A Polish Carol, arranged by Malcolm Sargent
and performed by The Elora Festival Singers

Who can name that bright flame which the Wise Men saw that night?
What it some Godsent glow, or a splendid star we know?
Southward they sallied from Jerusalem:
What was the star stood over Bethlehem?

Star on the hilltop shining like a gem,
Are you the star that led to Bethlehem?

Low and high in the sky many lights amaze the eye:
All the days we must praise Him who made the heavens blaze.
Yet we believe some radiant stranger
Stood in the south above the manger.

Let us, then, troubled men, humble men and reverent,
See a spark in the dark; and salute the firmament,
For the same light that halted on the hill
Brightens the night of all the nations still.

Monday, December 20, 2010

December 21

I Wonder As I Wander
performed by The Cambridge Singers

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

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

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

This carol is attributed to American folk singer John Jacob Niles, who collected it on July 16, 1933. In his words:

" 'I Wonder As I Wander' grew out of three lines of music sung to me by a girl who called herself Annie Morgan. The Place was Murphy, North Carolina, and the time was July, 1933. The Morgan family, revivalists all, were about to be ejected by the police, having camped in the town square for some little time, cooking, washing, hanging their wash from the Confederate monument, and generally conducting themselves in such a way as to be considered a public nuisance. Preacher Morgan and his wife pled poverty; they had to hold one more meeting in order to buy enough gas to get out of town.

It was then that Annie Morgan came out-- a tousled, unwashed blonde, and very lovely. She sang the first three lines of the verse of 'I Wonder As I Wander'. At twenty-five cents a performance, I tried to get her to sing all the song. After eight tries, all of which are carefully recorded in my notes, I had only three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material-- and a magnificent idea. With the writing of additional verses and the development of of the original melodic material, 'I Wonder As I Wander' came into being. I sang it for five years in my concerts before it caught on. Since then it has been sung by soloists and choral groups, wherever the English language is spoken or sung."

Annie Morgan was persuaded to sing the fragment of music over and over, at the price of twenty-five cents per "performance". Considering the astoundingly beautiful carol that eventually came into being because of it, this payment would seem to be a bargain at any price. But, it is important to be mindful of the economic situation of the "Dirty Thirties"... The sum that Ms. Morgan was paid for her singing would have been enormously helpful to her family's impoverished situation, during this period of the Depression. This meeting of the two musicians was fortuitous for both, as well as for us.

Because of the way in which the composition of this piece came about, many singers and listeners initially claimed to be "confused" about its authorship, and tried to declare it "anonymous" in origin. Mr. Niles eventually undertook several lawsuits, in order to have the song formally declared as his own work.

"I Wonder As I Wander" was completed on October 4, 1933. Mr. Niles first performed the song on December 19, 1933, at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. It was originally published in Songs of the Hill Folk in 1934.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

December 20

Lux Arumque
by the brilliant Eric Whitacre,
and performed by The Choir of King's College, Cambridge
(video player, below)

calida gravis que pura velut aurum
et canunt angeli moliter
modo natum.

warm and heavy as pure gold
and the angels sing softly
to the new-born baby.

On Sunday afternoon, I had the great pleasure of being one of the members of the congregation for The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at St. John's Church in Elora, Ontario: the home of one of the foremost choral ensembles in North America. The music was breathtaking, as was the atmosphere of the beautiful church, which is nestled in some of the most sacred farm country in our part of the world. As we exited the church, we were greeted by the Rector, who was standing in the doorway. Behind him, outside, twilight was fading and snow was falling... It was the perfect end to a most perfect afternoon.

One of the most moving pieces of music that I heard during the service was Eric Whitacre's "Lux Arumque: Light and Gold". The sound was haunting... and the words brought tears to my eyes. Whitacre's genius is found in the structure of the chords that he uses in his compositions. His signature "Whitacre Chords," or pan-diatonic clusters are usually arranged in successive increasing or decreasing density. Whitacre achieves this growth and decay by splitting voices divisi: in one case up to 18 parts. He is not only a prolific composer, he is a ferociously busy conductor, lecturer and teacher, as well.

In 2009, Mr. Whitacre embarked on a mammoth project, involving this particular choral piece. Using computer technology, he organized a "Virtual Choir": 185 voices, beamed in from 12 different countries around the world. He conducted the singers online, combined their efforts and recorded the result in a spectacular video, which he then published on Youtube. Within two months, the video had over one million "hits". Not only did this ground-breaking idea expose a whole new audience to this genre of music, it brought together musicians from around the world who otherwise might never have had the opportunity to collaborate on a musical project.

Watch, listen, and enjoy:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

December 19

See Amid the Winter's Snow
performed by Jessye Norman with
The New York Choral Society, The American Boy Choir,
and The Empire Chamber Ensemble

This lovely verse was written by Rev. E. Caswall in 1851, and was set to music by Sir John Goss in 1870. It was the first hymn sung at my wedding ceremony at St. James' Church in Stratford, Ontario, eighteen years ago today. Even the torrential downpour couldn't dampen our spirits that day, and I still smile, remembering the raindrops pounding on the roof, every time I hear this music.

See amid the winter's snow,
Born for us on earth below;
See the tender Lamb appears,
Promised from eternal years.

Hail, thou ever blessed morn;
Hail, redemption's happy dawn;
Sing through all Jerusalem,
Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Lo, within a manger lies-
He who built he starry skies;
He who throned in height sublime
Sits amid the cherubim!

Say, ye holy shepherds, say
What your joyful news to-day;
Wherefore have ye left your sheep
On the lonely mountain steep?

'As we watched at dead of night,
Lo, we saw a wondrous light;
Angels singing "Peace on earth"
Told us of the Saviour's birth.'

Sacred Infant, all Divine,
What a tender love was thine,
Thus to come from highest bliss
Down to such a world as this!

Teach, O teach us, Holy Child,
By thy face so meek and mild,
Teach us to resemble thee,
In thy sweet humility.

December 18

Walking in a Winter Wonderland
performed by Deana Carter

(One of my favourite country singers... If you've never heard her
sing "Did I Shave My Legs For This?", then you are missing OUT, people!!)

Friday, December 17, 2010

December 17

I Saw Three Ships
performed by The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge
and arranged by John Rutter

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 poem, and it is often found in books of nursery rhymes. Various titles of the song have included "As I Sat On a Sunny Bank", and "As I Sat By My Old Cottage Door" (which is a depiction of The Passion, and isn't actually a Christmas song at all.) "I Saw Three Ships" was eventually taken down by Cecil Sharp, and was published in his "English Folk Carols". Sharp's notes also record a variation on the traditional tune.

The lyrics used here can be found in "Christmas Carols, An­cient and Mo­dern", by William Sandys, published in 1833.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December 16

The Holly and the Ivy
sung by The Choir of Winchester Cathedral,
arranged by Walford Davies (video, below)
and a more uncommon version, sung by
Kate Rusby, "The Barnsley Nightingale" (music player, above right)

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown

O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Saviour...

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good...

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas Day in the morn...

The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all...

Today, I give you two beautiful versions of the same carol, featuring two of our most popular and beloved symbols of Christmas: holly and ivy. As much as I love the more well-known version of this carol, performed (most "sweetly") by one of the foremost choirs in Great Britain... I feel such a fondness for Kate Rusby's more rustic, lilting version. What a treat it has been to discover her beautiful Christmas album, "Sweet Bells", this year... Tune in next week for another selection from this Yorkshire lass!

The tradition of decorating the home with evergreens during winter is an ancient one. Since pagan times, evergreens have been valued for their ability to retain signs of life in winter-- even, in some instances, producing flowers and berries.

Early Christians displayed evergreen plants in their homes to symbolize everlasting life. Holly, ivy and evergreen herbs such as bay and rosemary were the most commonly used, all with symbolic meanings. Rosemary, for remembrance, and bay, for valour, are still well known. Holly and ivy were a particularly popular combination. The holly was traditionally thought to be "masculine", and the ivy "feminine", thus giving "stability to the home". This carol is probably related to an older carol, "The Contest of the Ivy and the Holly", which depicted a contest between the traditional emblems of woman and man.

"The Holly and the Ivy" takes a plant deeply entrenched in the pagan past and uses it to portray symbols of Christianity. Holly's "white as lily" flower in the second verse is an allusion to Christ's purity. In the third verse, the red color of holly's berry symbolizes Christ's blood. Holly's thorny "prickle" in the fourth verse is an allusion to the crown of thorns. And the bitter taste of holly's bark mentioned in the fifth verse could be a reference to the drink offered to Christ as he hung on the cross.

The earliest version of this carol was published by Joshua Sylvester, in his "Christmas Carols", published in 1861. He apparently sourced it to an old printed broadside, that was dated 1710. The music that we all recognize as the more traditional tune and text of "The Holly and the Ivy" was collected by Cecil Sharp, who heard a woman singing it in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, in about 1909. It is published in his "English Folk-Carols", and, of course, in the "Oxford Book of Carols".

December 15

Snowdrifts in Dorset, England

"Remember O Thou Man"
arrangement by Bob Chilcott,
and performed by The Elora Festival Singers

As you remember from last year, I absolutely love Bob Chilcott's beautiful, "blues-y" version of this ancient carol. I'm hoping very much to hear it again, sung live by the Elora Festival singers, when I attend the "Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols" at St. John's Church in Elora, Ontario this weekend... barring all snow, of course.

This past autumn, I discovered a whole new reason to love the original setting of "Remember O Thou Man", which was written by Thomas Ravenscroft in 1611. While I was quilting one afternoon, I popped this DVD of Thomas Hardy's "Under The Greenwood Tree" into my player, for a little bit of "background" entertainment. Well, as you can probably imagine, I was MORE than pleasantly distracted by the story that unfolded on my tv screen... With Keeley Hawes as charming schoolmistress Fancy Day, and the spectacular James Murray as Dick Dewey, how could I possibly be expected to sew straight seams?? If you have the opportunity to see this delightful rendition of Thomas Hardy's gentlest and sweetest tale, I cannot recommend this film more highly. Within the first fifteen minutes, Dick Dewey falls head-over-heels for Fancy Day while out carolling with the church choir on Christmas Eve... while singing this carol, which I include for you here:

Thomas Hardy includes the carol in his novel, although the words are slightly different than those found in Bob Chilcott's version. As with many of these ancient, "rustic" carols, the words set to the tune can be adapted for several different religious occasions. "Remember O Thou Man" is also suggested for use in Lenten services.

Thomas Ravenscroft (c. 1582 or 1592 until 1635) was an English composer, theorist and editor, notable as a composer of rounds and catches, and especially for compiling collections of British folk music. He started his career as a chorister at Chichester Cathedral and then moved to London to serve in St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was an exciting time in London, as the Theatres were hugely popular, showing plays by such noted playwrights as William Shakespeare. Ravenscroft grew to know many of the actors and writers of this era, and wrote music to accompany some of the plays that were produced at the Globe Theatre. Ravenscroft was also responsible for the preservation of the largest collection of popular vocal music which were published in Pammelia(1609), Deuteromalia(1609), and Melismata(1611). These songs had massive popular appeal and, as with the plays of the era, proved profitable for the Publishers. These works became some of the longest surviving collections of traditional English popular songs.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December 14

"Frosty the Snowman"
performed by Lars Edegran
& His Santa Claus Revelers
with Big Al Carson

This selection is for my dear old dad, who, while he may not necessarily approve of the song, will definitely enjoy the traditional jazz style in which it is played. When my brother, sister and I were very little, my father would put on a record for us to "dance" to after dinner every night, thus enabling our parents a little p&q in the kitchen while they did the dishes. We three monstrous children would proceed to bounce off of the walls in the living room, which was permitted, only because it would hopefully tire us out before the bedtime routine began.

I have very fond memories of many of the musical selections my father chose for us each night. It was he who introduced us to the entire canon of The Beatles-- and I am proud to say that I remember the words of every song by heart, with alarming accuracy. We also listened to a wonderful Spanish album, entitled "El Bandito", which was eventually banned, because of the damage the household incurred as we galloped around like wild masked desperadoes. The majority of music that we played was a reflection of our family's roots, however, and was mainly "English": Percy Grainger's "Country Gardens" became our absolute favourite, and not just because, as we were repeatedly told, it reminded my dad of his own father.

The album that sprang into my mind when I heard today's piece of music for the first time was "The Best of Barber and Bilk": a wonderful, "rag-time"-type jazz compilation. Both Barber and Bilk are Englishmen, but perfected the traditional "American" style, and perform with considerable aplomb. "Acker" Bilk became almost as well known for his attire as he did for his breathy, rich, low-register clarinet style: he sported a bowler hat, a striped vest, and his trademark goatee for every performance. Chris Barber is a stellar jazz trombonist, double bass player, and band leader. Both men continue to perform today... indeed, at the age of 80, Chris Barber will be releasing his newest album, "Memories of My Trip" (a double CD!) in 2011. Can't wait!

Yep, this one's for dad-- a little "payback" for my happy memories... and the memories his granddaughters will have of the fun they had last weekend, when they built spectacular snowmen (and snow cats) on the front lawn in Stratford, together.

Monday, December 13, 2010

December 13

And now we know what keeps The Fat Man so jolly...

"Here We Come A-Wassailing"
performed by Kate Rusby

Call me a curmudgeon, but I have never been a fan of the "wassail". The word itself has long annoyed me, especially when it is misused on party invitations at Christmastime. For the traditional Canadian wassail is most certainly NOT an event to which one should be invited. A REAL wassail is more like an assault, or an invasion of your home by boisterous, although well-meaning, most often drunken individuals. If you're lucky, you yourself will be plied with so much hot alcohol (which the invaders will have brought to the impromptu party) that you will soon no longer care that your home is being thoroughly trashed, and your pantry raided of all the good things you have painstakingly prepared for your own family's Christmas. To top it off, you will then be convinced to leave the warmth of your own hearth, to strike out with the group and join the attack upon your nearest neighbours.

Thankfully, however, music is also involved in this process. Unless you are a fan of anarchy (and those of you East Coast Canadians who partake in this annual revelry know what I'm talking about), I would humbly suggest that if you hear a gaggle of individuals lustily singing a wassail tune outside your house on any night over the next several weeks, you keep your front door firmly locked. Accept the revellers' blessings from the safety of your bedroom window. The music is a kind of an "advance warning", if you ask me: kind of like a flare signal, only louder.

It is because of all of this-- and several somewhat-memorable experiences I had during my university days-- that I have always cringed (inwardly) whenever I have heard a "wassail" sung during a celebration of Christmas carols.

Thank heaven for Kate Rusby. Because this year, she changed all of that.

Kate Rusby is also known as "The Barnsley Nightingale", and hails from Penistone, South Yorkshire, in England. She is widely regarded as one of the finest English folk singers of contemporary times. I find her rendition of this traditional wassail tune completely irresistible. Even King's College, Cambridge can't touch this: Kate Rusby's sweet voice and lilting Northern accent somehow makes the song seem more "true" (even if the wassail DID originate in the South of England, where the majority of apple farms were, and the best cider was produced). More perfect still, she is accompanied by instruments that are far more like the ones that might have been carried from door-to-door in times-gone-by...

That is... IF the musicians were still able to stand in an upright position.

"Wæs hæil!"
Drink hæil...
(you have been warned!!)

4 (2*) cups good Apple Cider (freshly pressed)
1 cup Orange Juice
2 pints heavy (winter) ale*
3 cups Port*
4 small tart/sweet apples (peeled and cored)
2 lemons
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. nutmeg
3 small or 1.5 large cinnamon sticks
15 whole cloves
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
4 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp, butter (cold)

* 2 pints Sherry or Madeira wine and 1-cup rum are often substituted (for ale and port) by non-beer drinkers - resulting in a somewhat sweeter flavor, with a lighter body.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Pack 1 tbsp. of brown sugar and ¼ tbsp. of butter into the core of each apple. Place the apples in a small baking dish and fill dish with ½-inch of water. This will keep apples from burning or sticking to the bottom. When oven is heated, bake the apples uncovered for 45 min. to 1-hour, or until they are tender and soft, but not mushy. Drain the water. Quarter each baked apple (or divide into eighths, depending on the number of guests you have, and how greedy you think they might be).

Combine cardamom, cloves and ginger in a small piece of cheesecloth, and tie it closed with twine to form a spice packet. (A tea ball or tea bag may also be used for this purpose, if that's what you've got.)

In a large stockpot (or crockpot) combine the apple cider, orange juice, (plus Ale, Port/Rum, Wine, as you like), and the juice of one lemon. Place the cinnamon and nutmeg directly into the liquid and stir to infuse the nutmeg. Submerge the spice packet in the stockpot. Stir the apples into the stockpot: they'll ultimately float on the top and begin to soften, then fall apart and add a creamy quality to the liquid. Simmer on medium/high (but don't allow the mixture to boil-- that defeats the purpose!) for two hours, until the hot spices are thoroughly infused, and the apples have begun to dissolve.

Remove the spice packet and decant into a fancy "Wassail Bowl" if not using a stockpot or a crockpot. Garnish the bowl by floating thin slices of the remaining lemon on top.

Serve in mugs, with a sizable piece of apple in each mug.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


This afternoon, after a slightly harrowing drive home, it was good to collapse on the sofa with my girls, and take in an afternoon movie. What a TREAT it was to find this little gem of a film on my television!

People, I haven't laughed this hard in years... The cast is led by the brilliant Martin Freeman of "The Office" (no, not THAT "Office", the REAL "Office"... Brits do it best, as always. Trust.) Pam Freeman, and many other famous faces of the BBC pop up at regular intervals to join in the fun. Most wonderful of all, however, is Mark Wootton, who plays Mr. Poppy, the Educational Assistant of my dreams (and nightmares, if I'm honest).

Your kids will LOVE this-- nearly as much as you will.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

December 12

The Wild Wood Carol
by John Rutter, and performed by
The Cambridge Singers

Sing o the wild wood, the green holly,
The silent river and barren tree,
The humble creatures that no man sees,
Sing O the wild wood.

A weary journey one winter's night,
No hope of shelter, no rest in sight,
Who was the creature that bore Mary?
A simple donkey.

And when they came into Bethl'hem town,
They found a stable to lay them down,
For their companions that Christmas night,
An ox and an ass.

And then an angel came down to earth,
To bear the news of the Saviour's birth,
The first to marvel were shepherds poor,
And sheep with their lambs.

December 11

"Angels from the Realms of Glory"
performed by The Choir of King's College, Cambridge

The words of this carol were written by English poet James Montgomery in 1816, and it was first published in his newspaper, The Sheffield "Iris", on December 24th of that year. Interestingly, it reads very much like an early nineteenth-century translation of the opening verses of "Les anges dans nos campagnes", an old French carol from which the original tune of the carol derived. "Angels from the Realms of Glory" only began being sung in churches after its reprinting in "The Christmas Box", which was the first complete book of the Religious Tract Society, published in 1825.

These words have been sung to a wide variety of different tunes, the most popular being the tune of "Angels We Have Heard on High". It is because of this that Montgomery's original refrain of "Come and worship Christ, the new-born king!" is omitted, and the notoriously well-known "Gloria in excelsis Deo!" is substituted.

Friday, December 10, 2010

December 10

"Christmastime's A-Coming"
performed by Raffi

"...and I know I'm going home!"

Today the girlies and I will be packing up our car, and attempting to out-run the next snow storm, in order to get to The Grandparents in Stratford. There has been an outrageous amount of the white stuff falling in the "Snow Belt" of Ontario, and so we must time our road trip carefully... While there is nothing worse than being caught in a storm while on the road TO Gramma and Grampa's house, there is nothing better in the whole wide world than being caught in a storm AT Gramma and Grampa's... For the cosy house is always welcoming and comfortable, the food is fragrant and plentiful, and there is nothing "fun-er" than grabbing a 30-plus-year-old toboggan, flinging onself down upon it, and whizzing down the hill to the bottom of my parents' garden.

While we will avoid the snow on the way there... you can be sure of what our prayers will be full of once we arrive!!!

(Oh, my long suffering parents... be forewarned!!! 'Cause here we come. xoxoxo)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

December 9

Uh, oh... Christmas tree...

"O Christmas Tree"
Performed by Oscar Peterson

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

December 8

"...on a winter's night with ewe."

"Song for a Winter's Night"
performed by Canada's own
Gordon Lightfoot

And you thought Bugs Bunny was a great conductor...

Be sure to watch this one right through to the end, folks... because this is the best final movement of a Beethoven symphony that I've ever seen.

When Child Number One was a tiny baby, my mother arranged for me to get out of the house for a few hours, and gave me the gift of a ticket to the theatre, and a BABYSITTER. Now, being a new mother, the very idea of leaving my firstborn in the care of anyone other than myself was enough to provoke paroxysms of guilt, and a panic attack so intense that it caused me to initially reject the offer. The babysitter wasn't even FAMILY, for crying out loud-- what on earth could possibly qualify her for the job?

I'll never forget my mother's response to my distress. She patted me down, and in her best psychiatric nurse's voice, soothed me with the assurance:

"It will be all right, dear. This teenage girl is perfect.


Not "Red Cross Certified". Not even Mary Poppins, herself. "SHE'S MUSICAL" was the highest recommendation that my mother could give to another human being.

So, I went to the play. (And Baby Number One survived the ordeal. Quite nicely.)

My mother sent me this little video to cheer me up last week, when I was down with bronchitis and a nasty ear infection. Obviously, because Beethoven has healing qualities, didn't you know that??

But, above all else, it was because of the child featured in the video. We have no idea who he is, but I've got a sneakin' suspicion he's been watching someone else conduct this piece... his "moves" are simply wonderful-- not so much for the fact that he manages to stay just a breath ahead of the music (even when he gets the sniffles, which I can relate to), or even the fact that he appears to "address" his entire imaginary orchestra, in the general direction where each of the instruments would have been seated.

Above all else, we love this video because this kid is


And what's more, he's got a sense of HUMOUR about it.

And that? Is probably the most important human quality of all.

Oh, little boy, whoever you are... your pure joy and laughter is the very best medicine.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December 7

"Carol of the Children"
by John Rutter,
and performed by Polyphony, Stephen Layton,
and The City of London Symphonia

One for the star in the sky over Bethlehem,
Two for the hands that will rock Him to sleep,
Three for the kings bringing gold, bringing myrrh, bringing incense,
Four for the angels that watch over his bedside.

Blue for the robe of the sweet Virgin Mary,
White for the dawn of that first Christmas day,
Red for the blood that he shed for us all on Good Friday,
Black for the tomb where he rested 'till Easter.

Lullaby, see Jesus asleep.
Angels and shepherds their watch on him keep,
Lullaby, he soon will awake,
For the oxen are stirring and morning will break.

One for the star in the sky over Bethlehem,
Two for the hands that will rock him to sleep,
Three for the kings bringing gold, bringing myrrh, bringing incense,
Four for the angels that watch over his bedside,

And one for the heart, one for the heart,
One for the heart that I give as my offering to Jesus.

Monday, December 6, 2010

December 6

Boogie Woogie Santa Claus
performed by Colin James
and the Little Big Band

Today is December 6th: the Feast of St. Nicholas!

Nicolaos of Myra was Greek, and a Bishop of Myra, which is now a part of modern-day Turkey. He was also known as "Nicolaos the Wonderworker", because of the miracles that were associated with him. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving (for example, placing coins in the shoes of people who left them out for him), and became a model for our modern-day Santa Claus, whose name derives from the Dutch "Sinterklaas". He is the patron saint of many, including sailors, merchants, archers, thieves, children and students.

There are a great number of legends associated with St. Nicholas. The tale that hearkens closely to our traditional view of Santa Claus is the story of how he helped a poor man and his three daughters. The man had no money to provide dowries for his three girls, and at that time in history, this essentially ensured that they would remain unmarried and unable to financially support themselves (unless they were to turn to The World's Oldest Profession, that is...) St. Nicholas did not want to humiliate the man by offering him charity, and so under the cover of the dark of night, he threw one purse of money down the man's chimney, for three nights. The purses landed in the girls' stockings, which had been washed and hung up on the fireplace to dry.

In my house, it is not a star or an angel that graces the top of our Christmas tree. As a wedding present, nearly twenty years ago, we were given a beautiful statue of St. Nicholas, and it is he who "oversees" our holiday festivities!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

December 5

"Maybe This Christmas"
Performed by Canadian musician
Ron Sexsmith

Friday, December 3, 2010

December 4

The Basque Carol: The Angel Gabriel

words paraphrased by Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924)
performed by The Choir of New College, Oxford

The angel Gabriel from heaven came
His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame.
"All hail," said he, "thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favoured lady,"

"For know a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honour thee,
Thy Son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
Most highly favoured lady,"

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head.
"To me be as it pleaseth God," she said,
"My soul shall laud and magnify His holy name."
Most highly favoured lady.

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn.
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:
"Most highly favoured lady,"

This carol has an unusual history. While it is based on a Basque carol, "Birjina gaztettobat zegoen", its melody and words may actually have roots in the thirteenth or fourteenth century hymn, "Angelus Ad Virgineum". The carol was copied down by French composer and musicologist Charles Bordes, who published it in a volume of Basque folk tunes in 1895. The Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould (who is best known for his hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers") translated it into English, but took liberties with the text, reducing the original six stanzas to four. The exquisite image that Baring-Gould achieves with his poem is nothing short of magical, however, and shines in its Victorian-style description of Gabriel, with "...wings as drifted snow/His eyes as flame".

Rather than accompanying this piece of music with a Victorian painting of The Annunciation, however, I have chosen this more modern depiction of the scene... For no matter how many times I hear this story read to me, I cannot help but marvel at how truly terrified the painfully young mother-to-be must have been. And yet, she was somehow able to find the strength within herself to lean upon her faith, and trust that the future would unfold as it should.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December 3

The Lord At First Did Adam Make
performed by Richard Lloyd, The Hereford Cathedral Choir and Robert Green

Re-visiting various stories from the Old Testament is traditional in many Festivals of Lessons and Carols during the Christmas season. In particular, the story of Adam and Eve and their fall from the life of Paradise is a popular choice, mainly because of the long-held belief that Jesus Christ represents the birth of a "New Adam" in our religious history: He was sent to us by God in order to wash away the sins of the past, and represents a redemption and new beginning for humankind.

This lovely little carol is one that I have particularly enjoyed hearing during the King's College Chapel Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Cambridge University in England, whenever it has been performed. However, when I heard the version sung by the choristers at Hereford Cathedral, I was drawn to it for its up-beat tempo and vocal purity. And so, I cannot resist including them both here: Hereford Cathedral in the music player on the right, up there in the corner, and the King's College version (arranged most beautifully by Stephen Cleobury) in the video below. I am certain you will find pleasure in both!

The history of this carol apparently derives from the West of England. A version of it was printed in Davies Gilbert's "Ancient Christmas Carols", published in 1822. According to Mr. Gilbert, the lyrics of carols such as these were changed slightly for use on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (mainly in the chorus, I discovered during my research) up until the late eighteenth century. Mr. Gilbert wrote:

"Christmas Day, like any other great festival, has prefixed to it in the calendar a Vigil or Fast; and in Catholic countries a Mass is still celebrated at midnight after Christmas Eve, when austerities cease, and rejoicings of all kind succeed. Shadows of these customs were, till very lately, preserved in the Protestant West of England. The day of Christmas Eve passed in an ordinary manner; but at seven or eight o'clock in the evening cakes were drawn hot from the oven; cyder or beer exhilarated the spirits in every house; and the singing of carols was carried late into the night. On Christmas Day these carols took the place of psalms in all the churches, especially at afternoon service, the whole congregation joining; and at the end it was usual for the parish clerk to declare, in a loud voice, his wishes for a merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all the parishioners. Rude thought it be, the earnestness and simplicity of this carol render it very characteristic and pleasing."

... to which I must add that I couldn't possibly agree more.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December 2

"Jingle Bells"
Performed by The Canadian Brass,
and with John Grady playing
The Great Organ of St. Patrick's Cathedral

ps. it's snowing here today!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

December 1

"Rejoice and be Merry"
by John Rutter, and performed by
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and
The Cambridge Singers

Greetings, dear readers, and welcome to our annual celebration of Christmas!

As in years past, the month of December will see "I Can Fly, Just Not Up" turned into a Musical Advent Calendar. Each day this month, tune in to hear a different Christmas carol. Some you may have heard before, and some may be new to you. Each piece of music has been carefully chosen for your enjoyment, and is my gift to you.

So, take a moment to sit back, relax and enjoy one of the great pleasures of the season! I hope it will give you respite from the planning and preparation that is involved in "Making Christmas"... for this special holiday is about so much more than presents, decorations, and copious amounts of food (much of which is CHOCOLATE, but I digress...)

I hope these few minutes you spend listening to beautiful music will give you an opportunity to stop what you're doing; to breathe and reflect upon the true meaning of Christmas:

Love, and hope, and peace.

xo CGF

Monday, November 22, 2010


Due to overwhelming demand...
Here`s another heavenly Random Act of Culture!

This one occurred on October 30th at exactly noon, at Macy`s Department Store In Center City, and was performed by The Opera Company of Philadelphia. The singers were accompanied by the magnificent Wanamaker pipe organ, which is the largest in the world.

Confession, dear readers?

This one brought me to tears.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

An Early Christmas Present...


Is what occurred in the food court of the Seaway mall in Welland, Ontario last week. Shoppers were given a surprise early Christmas gift, courtesy of the most awesome "Chorus Niagara".

I hope you will join me in actually ANTICIPATING the beginning of the shopping portion of the holiday season this year...

Because if magical things like this can happen in Welland, Ontario?

They can happen ANYWHERE, people.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


For my dearest friend, who is far away from me.
Because I'm more than just a little bit cold here without you.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Great Escape?

I raced up the stairs, unbelieving of what my little girls were claiming as truth.

"There's NO WAY Pip could be missing! Dad just gave her food and water this morning. He SAW HER."

I grasped at whatever straws I could think of.

"She's teeny-tiny, remember. She's probably just buried herself in the shavings somewhere, and is taking a little nap."

Yes, that must have been it.

These are DWARF hamsters we're talking about, here. If any of you have ever seen the size of a Canadian dollar coin (aptly called a "loonie"), then imagine that Pip could have sat herself on top of one, and the edges of the coin would still have been visible. THAT SMALL.

And yet, we combed through every, single little bit of fluff in that cage, and there was only one little brown hamster to be found.

Pip was definitely missing.

The girls were inconsolable. Grief was unleashed, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth could be heard for blocks around.

"How did you manage to LOSE HER?" I hissed at my poor husband from between clenched teeth. "Didn't I TELL you to keep the door SHUT??!!"

His claims of absolute innocence were strongly refuted by the children, who went off to find the cats and check their teeth for further evidence.

"The cats didn't get her... I SWEAR..." the husband wracked his brain for a logical explanation. "I was here the whole weekend, and I certainly would have heard the cats chasing that hamster around. I fed those two little feckers only this MORNING!! There's no WAY the cats could have gotten her..."

"You kept the door SHUT?" I arched an eyebrow at him.

"YES. The bedroom door was SHUT at all times, I promise!" he claimed.

A thought suddenly occurred to me.

"The BEDROOM door was shut... but what about the CAGE door? When you went to the bathroom to fill up the little water dish... DID YOU SHUT AND LOCK THE CAGE DOOR when you were out of the room??"

I saw a flicker of doubt in his eye, as he cast his mind back.

"Those feckers are FAST, man. They are PROGRAMMED to escape. Can you tell me that you are SURE you locked that cage door, each and every time you opened and shut it??" I demanded, every inch the prosecutor of the case, coming in for the kill.

"Well...." he wavered.

I didn't wait for an answer.

Calling the girlies, I raced down to the kitchen and began rounding up as many deep mixing bowls as I could find. They followed my orders to lock both cats in the basement, and then thundered up the stairs after me. I grabbed handfuls of paperback books off of the shelves in the upstairs hallway, and requested that the kids do the same.

What for, you ask??

Hamster Traps, of course.

If Pip had managed to make a lightning-quick escape that morning, then chances were that she was still somewhere in the vicinity of the upstairs. We placed the deep bowls on the floor, all over the bedrooms and upstairs hallway. We poured handfuls of hamster food and yogurt treats at the bottom of each bowl, and built little makeshift stair-cases of books up to the edge of each one. The idea was that Pip would smell the food, toddle up the "stairs", then slip into the bowl and be unable to get out, once she had finished packing her cheeks with the food.

After a long and exhausting evening of fruitless searching-- under furniture, in closets, pockets, and down floor air vents, the children sobbed themselves to sleep.

I, however, was completely unable to rest that night. I kept hoping that I could hear the scurry of tiny feet... Night-time would be the time for nocturnal Pip to re-appear, after all.

I spent a great deal of that night lying wide-awake in my bed, and alternatively, sitting in wait at the top of the staircase, where I had a good view of the entire hallway.

But, in spite of all of our efforts, there was no sign of Pip that night. Or the next night. Or the next.

I did everything I could to try and jolly my children along, as time passed. We made up little stories about Pip the Great Adventurer, how she had cleverly plotted her escape, and how she had discovered a secret passage to the Great Outdoors. She was, we willed ourselves to believe, now living with a gang of field mice somewhere out in our garden. In true "Country Mouse/City Mouse" tradition, we imagined her leaning on miniature mantelpieces late at night, enthralling her audience with tales of her time behind bars, and of her genius at foiling her gaolers.

Time passed. And, eventually, we all began to relax a bit about the situation. After a week of meticulous cleaning, I became fairly certain that she was no longer in the house. The complete absence of droppings led me to believe that she had, indeed, in all likelihood, managed to slip down an air vent and subsequently "met her Maker" (or, at least, the bowels of the air conditioning system).

Eventually, the deep mixing bowls were gathered up, as we began to need them for cooking and baking... The books were put back on their shelves.

And all this time, tiny Freckle, the lone Hamster In Residence, frolicked in the cage that was now ALL HERS, and didn't seem to miss her sister one. single. bit.

Life returned to some semblance of "normal". Or, as normal as it ever gets around here.

Truth be told, the "bloom was off the rose", as far as hamsters were concerned. The girls lost interest in Freckle, which is not actually in their natures... They have always been ferociously protective pet-owners, and taken their responsibility for the animals in their care very seriously. But, Freckle was living locked in the spare bedroom, in order to keep her safe from the cats. Out-of-sight can sometimes truly mean out-of-mind.

It fell to me, then (of course), to remember to tend to Freckle's teeny-tiny needs. It isn't hard, actually. She doesn't eat very much. Her water dish needed refilling only every-other-day, once Pip disappeared. And, her cage needed cleaning only once a week, which I grudgingly performed. In true Ungrateful Rodent fashion, Freckle ceremoniously took large chunks out of my fingers every, single time, which made her even less appealing to me as a pet... if that is possible.

Strangely, I was beginning to understand how my father had felt about that rabbit, all those years ago.

My sleep patterns finally fell back into their normal routine. I no longer waited up to hear the scurry of little feet, or dreaded meeting the tiny furball under the sheets of my bed. (*shudder*)

The kids were finally sleeping again, too. Child Number Two and Wee Three had just acquired a brand new bunk bed, and were delighting in their new arrangement. It took a few nights, trying to figure out who would take possession of the top bunk, and who would sleep below... but as I had originally thought, Wee Three quickly decided that being closer to the floor was the better place to be. By her own reasoning: Monsters are Big. Therefore, if Monsters were to attack in the night, they would eat the child in the top bunk first, giving the child in the lower bunk a chance to escape.

Well, hey. It worked for me. And, it worked for Charlotte and Maude the cats, who were having a perplexing time trying to navigate the bed's ladder. At least they would have ONE of their little girls to sleep with at night.

All was peaceful.


In the wee hours of a morning more than two weeks later, I heard scuffles coming from the girlies' bedroom.

Cats, I thought. Drat that ladder... Maude must be lonesome for the Monster Bait child in the upper bunk. I said a silent prayer that the flailings of a small, fat cat would not be enough to rouse the girlies from their slumber. Because, once those two little stemwinders were awake, there was no going back-- whether it was two o'clock or ten o'clock in the morning, awake meant AWAKE, and there would be no peace to be had after that.

The scuffles continued.

"Muuuuuumm?" a small, muffled wail rang out, "Maude'n'Charlotte are playing in here, and they just woke us up."


"Never mind, sweetie. Is Maude trying to get into the top bunk? Maybe you could give her a boost, and then she'd settle down. I'll bet she just wants to snuggle with somebody. Boost her up, and go back to sleep."

The scuffles continued.

"Muuuuummm?" The child had clearly not yet roused herself from her bed. "It's Charlotte. I think she's brought a toy in here, and she's whacking it around on the floor."

Well, that explains it, I thought. I had just given the cats a fresh package of jumbo-sized pom-poms to play with on the kitchen floor the day before. They must have carried a couple of them upstairs in their mouths. Tomorrow night, I vowed, cats would be shooed into the basement for the night, toys and all.

"Don't worry," I called, not wanting to actually physically appear in the girls' bedroom, since my awake-ness would be seen as a signal that it was time to get up and start the day. "She's playing with a pom-pom. I bought them some yesterday. She'll get bored in a minute. Turn over, and go back to sleep."

There was a pause. (Which, I have learned, is usually a signal that all hell is about to break loose.)

"MUUUUUUMMMMM... Do the pom-poms you bought have little pink ears... and FEET???"

Charlotte had chosen that exact moment to pick her "new toy" up in her mouth, jumped up on Wee Three in the lower bunk, and plopped it down on my little girl's chest.

Charlotte cocked her head to one side, as if to request, "This needs new batteries???"

You can pretty much guess what happened next.

The whole wide world came tumbling down.

Charlotte and Maude went streaking from the room, as soon as the screaming started. My hapless husband was finally roused from his sleep, and went pealing into the girls' room, where he whisked the deceased corpse of Pip quickly out of sight. I was left to console... which was mightily hard to do, let me tell you, after all of the wonderful yarns we had spun about Pip the Adventurer in the Garden.

It was? not. nice.

Pip was buried under a lovely clump of lily-of-the-valley later that day. Her tiny body was perfect-- Charlotte had not acted in an even remotely Darwinian fashion. She had simply found a "new toy" that eventually ran out of energy, and died of exhaustion when the game went on for too long.

The girls have forgiven both their father and the cats. Strangely enough, though, they have had a much harder time forgiving Pip for the entire experience. They talk about Pip in heaven, and how she and George, our dearly departed ferocious monster, are likely having happy games of cat-and-mouse in the great green fields in the sky... But interestingly, they seem to have come to some sort of conclusion about the whole thing that encompasses the ideas of right, wrong, and consequence. Somehow, in their minds, they have decided that Pip plotted her escape, which was something that she should not have done. Her choice to "run wild" in the house, instead of showing up in one of our primitive hamster traps, was wrong of her... and she eventually faced her "consequence", much like a naughty child put in a (permanent!) kind of time out.

Pip has been personified to such a degree in our family, it doesn't even seem to occur to my children that she was an animal-- an extremely small-brained animal, at that-- who was simply following her most basic instinct.

I firmly believe that a there is one idea that pulsates in the mind of all hamsters.

No, not "food".

Not "water".

Not even "reproduction".


"That's what you get"
--Wee Three

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