Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Christmas Memory


This is the first time I've deliberately taken vacation for the last week of the year. The hubbub of Christmas is done, family has headed back to Seattle and Ellensburg, Ken is back at work. The house is quiet. There are no cooking deadlines. My time is my own. This could easily become a personal tradition.

A poster at the library caught my attention last week, a poster announcing the first annual Sing-along Messiah on Bainbridge Island. My, what memories that poster unearthed!

Years ago, my friend Peter mentioned that there was to be a Sing-along Messiah at a church on Mercer Island. A group was planning to attend and would I like to go too? Hmm. Despite many years in bands and other singing groups, I had never learned how to read music well. I could sort of tell where the notes should go when learning a part and that was it. But I did know the alto part for the Hallelujah Chorus and I was familiar with the rest of The Messiah, so I figured I could wing it. Plans were solidified.

The day of the event arrived. At the entrance of the lobby, we each received a book of music. Uh oh. I had forgotten just how much music there is in The Messiah.

The auditorium was huge, organized into sections according to voice. Our group fanned out, each of us heading to our respective sections. I paged through the music and thought what am I doing here?! I had even forgotten about the Amen at the end. So many notes.

For a long time there were only six of us in the alto section. Then, suddenly, our section filled up and I was surrounded by nuns, happy nuns, laughing, friendly, settling themselves into the pews. They easily made up one-third of the 120+ altos. I learned that this particular sing-along was a tradition for them, which eased my Sheet-Music Anxiety. I told the nun on my right that I wasn't much good at reading music; she smiled and said I could nudge her with my elbow if I got lost and she'd point to where we were on the page. Hooray! This was a group who would be singing well and I could just float along with them during the challenging bits.

The evening was amazing - the instrumentalists came from the Seattle Symphony, two of the soloists from the Seattle Opera Company. And there is nothing like singing in a choir of over 400 people. The nuns had phenomenal voices (was that a prerequisite to their calling? I wondered.) I even managed to make it through most of the evening without losing my place. We came to the final piece, the Amen. I made it through six bars' worth of notes and gave up. And that's when something magnificent happened.

I was engulfed by the music, the basses, the tenors, all the voices. And the nuns! They were Valkyries, wielding notes instead of swords, heads back, full-throated, no need to look at the sheet music. It was as if this piece, this Amen, was the reason they had come.

And then...it was over, the last notes echoing around the room. There was a three-second clock-tick, and we all burst into cheers, clapping for the music, for Handel, for the shared experience. Some of the nuns giggled.

We enjoyed flaming figgy pudding with hard sauce, afterward, served by the church ladies. Then we turned in our music and headed home.

I've attended subsequent Sing-along Messiahs but that first one is the only one I vividly remember. Even as I've typed this, I can feel the music from that evening. Ken has never been to a sing-along, an unfortunate fact; we can't go to the Bainbridge Island sing-along this year, but we sure do plan on going in 2010.

Overheard on Twitter: gave address to taxi driver; response: "where's that? I only know the main areas."

Next time: hostile holiday recipes. Stay tuned.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fun With Tautology


I've mentioned in earlier posts that my reading is often at the mercy of whatever happens to come through the check-in station. Ask any library employee. It happens to all of us. Shelving is dangerous enough but at check-in we see books that are on their way back to their home branches, books we aren't likely to discover through browsing the catalog.

The ones that catch my eye are usually related to either humor or language. One such book showed up in the bookdrop and it has entertained me mightily for the last week, Armed Gunmen, True Facts and Other Ridiculous Nonsense by Richard Kallan, a book described as "a compendium of repetitive redundancies." The author points out tautological errors that are common to American speech and writing, errors made by even the most respected writers, newscasters, and bloggers.

A tautology (I learned) is a phrase in which the modifying language repeats the meaning of word being modified, an example being Armed Gunmen. Would unarmed gunmen simply lack arms? Would they still be gunmen? You see the problem with this, don't you?

I've enjoyed reading the book because it's more than a collection of lists. Each tautology includes a definition, often a really funny definition, that makes clear why the phrase is a tautology. One of my favorites is Planned Conspiracy, "a conspiracy devoid of spontaneity." Another is Laugh Out Loud, "the most outspoken way of laughing". I am so guilty of using that one but at least I'm in good company. I've read that tautology in many a book review.

But now that I ponder this, I don't often laugh truly out loud but, instead, laugh more through my nose, short outward bursts of amused breath. It takes something hilarious to get an actual voice-powered laugh out of me. Laugh Out Loud and its definition suits me just fine.

Armed Gunmen is wonderful reading, good for many a snicker. How about these: Foreign Import (an import that hasn't been domesticated), Three-Sided Triangle (welcome to remedial math), or Shared Dialogue (more conversational than a shared monologue.) Some tautologies, such as that last one, have what the author calls Close Relatives: conversational dialogue, interactive dialogue, two-way conversation. I also like Disorganized Mess (a mess that's poorly designed and engineered) and Drunken Sot (a sot committed to leaving a memorable impression.)

Ridiculous Nonsense (nonsense unencumbered by thoughtful analysis.)
Tough Challenge (a challenge from the wrong side of the track.)
Jewish Rabbi (more authentic than a Catholic rabbi.)

I must buy this book.

Reading Armed Gunmen, especially on the heels of Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips, has made me painfully aware of my own writing. This blog is great fun but I clearly need to do more self-editing.

Loosely related to the aforementioned tautology, I recently learned that there's an app for the iPhone called iLaughOutLoud. I don't own an iPhone. If I did, I wouldn't load it up with superfluous apps, but I could be tempted by that one.

Overheard on Twitter: Chinese Year of the Cow: mad cow disease. Year of the Chicken: bird flu. Year of the Pig: swine flu. 2012: Year of the Dragon.

Next time: A New Year. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sick Day No. 2


Alas, laughter has not saved me from a full-blown head cold.

I realized, this morning, that I posted an identical Youtube link in back-to-back posts. That's what happens when a germy brain gets online.

To take my mind off of my head, I've spent some time browsing blogs. I haven't yet figured out the logic behind Blogger's Next Blog option. Yesterday the blog after mine was garden-themed, as was every blog thereafter. Today it took me to craft/stitchery/Etsy-related sites. My most adventurous Next Blog experience occured last week - every single blog was in a foreign language.

But let's get back to today's Next Blog ramble. I've been keeping track of the One World One Heart blog, waiting for the post that kicks off this year's event - an event in which bloggers sign themselves into the OWOH bloglist with a link to their blogs. Each participant offers a giveaway; the way to enter a giveaway is to leave a comment on the blog. I did this last year (offering a new book as my giveaway) and found many creative people, folk that I would have otherwise missed.

I was reminded of OWOH when Next Blog took me to 20 Stamps Later. Heidi Harlequin has a delightful blog as well as an Etsy shop (her Christmas cards are wonderful); she's offering a giveaway on her blog that I'm entering. This is a first - I usually discover a giveaway the day after it ends!

Are you interested in American presidents? 44 U.S. Presidents offers a first-to-last look at Presidential portraits. Each portrait morphs into the next. I offer this link because it made me smile, especially the morph from #13 to #14, Millard Fillmore to Franklin Pierce in which Pierce seems decidedly flirty.

And that is that. I have a date with two aspirins and some ginger ale.

Overheard on Twitter (from a library in the UK): Eep, delivery man just relieved himself in our hedge. Postman did same a few weeks ago. What is the etiquette? Should we start charging?

Next time: we shall have to wait and see. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Laughter, the best medicine


Today's post title is shamelessly cribbed from Readers Digest.

My grandmother was an elementary school teacher who rarely had to take a sick day off, despite her exposure to all those children and their various ailments. Whenever she felt a cold looming, her approach was to ignore it into oblivion, the equivalent of putting her fingers in her ears and singing la la la la. Oddly, it seemed to work for her. My grandfather had a different method of dealing with impending illness - laugh it to death. He would get out his Book of American Humor and spend the evening reading, chuckling quietly; then he'd head to bed and wake up in the morning feeling fit as a fiddle.

I've been fighting off something germy since last Saturday, so I opted for my grandfather's method and watched Charlie Chaplin and Aardman films. I laughed a lot, which made me feel a little better (serotonin is my friend.) And there were several laughing moments this week that were spirit-lifting.

Last Saturday (besides being germy) was Port Orchard's 11th Annual Chimes & Lights celebration. We always host live music in the library for Chimes & Lights, music that has included The Average Djoes (a swing quartet with guitars, fiddle, and bass) and various members of Tuesday Jam, a celtic jamming group that I belong to. Sonja the harpist brought along her toy piano and absolutely rocked Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies on it. Another regular is a group that includes our former Friends of the Library president, Jim Herron. They come in Victorian costume, nine musicians with brass instruments, bells, and percussion, playing all the traditional Christmas favorites. One of my humor moments came while Jim's group was playing. Mind you, this group's music is loud (seriously, a tuba is in there.) One must shout to be heard at checkout. A patron came to me, beaming, and thanked the library for providing chamber music.

Another laughing moment came via my husband. Ken sent a Youtube link to me with a "you've probably already seen this" note. I clicked the link and had a delightful three minutes with a video I had not seen, despite the fact that it's been around for at least three years. I love it when really good musicianship blends with terrific humor. If you haven't heard Straight No Chaser perform The 12 Days of Christmas, now is your chance. (It's unfortunate but there's a short commercial at the very beginning. Be sure to let it load completely before you play it.)

One of the things I most enjoy about the Internet? Personal interactions. Not personal in the face-to-face sense, but in the conversations that happen all over the place. True Confession Time: I enjoy reading comment threads. Well, not all comment threads. There are some grievous things said out there (Youtube comments are grand examples), threads that deteriorate into something reminiscent of a 3rd grade playground altercation.

But some threads are simply wonderful. For example, here's a thread concerning a realty listing's photo of a bathroom with large, questionable stains on the shower wall. People were pondering the origin of the stains. We enter the four-person conversation mid-thread:

- ummm...doesn't old blood turn brown? This is reminiscent of a Psycho bathroom... shreee shreee shrrreeee!!!
- I'd often wondered about the exact spelling of that noise.
- These things are good to know. Now if someone can just teach me how to spell the sound of a cat sneezing...
- "echtsssh" Although I wouldn't say that covers all cats. I once had a cat
who sneezed "kgtknch"

See what I mean? That's what I love about comment threads.

Overheard on Twitter: You know those big, colorful, air-filled workout balls? I popped one today during my workout. Not sure what to think about that.

Next time: Musings. Stay tuned.

Monday, December 7, 2009

'Tis the season, once again


And so it begins. Christmas this year will be little different, for several reasons.

Our daughter-in-college has her own apartment now, which means she can stay put in Ellensburg for most of December and travel to Port Orchard when her schedule allows. (Pre-apartment, she was always booted out of the dorm on the last day of Finals Week.) Our son-no-longer-in-college has a commitment to an internship and a part-time job so he, too, will be arriving home closer to Christmas Eve.

This will be our second year participating in Advent Conspiracy, a call to Christians to get back to what we're supposed to be doing. So, we're asking family members to sponsor a goat or contribute to a well or some other worthy thing, rather than buying us a gift. We're keeping our Christmas Morning Stocking tradition, though, because it's still lovely to open a surprise. We've asked everyone to be "creative" - they can define that however they like!

We're also continuing to focus on Sunday Lunch, a free meal offered every Sunday at the Solid Rock Cafe. It's a place for people to come and have a nice informal dinner in a restaurant, people whose finances are thin or nonexistent. The meal started out last August as a hearty sack lunch; one church let us use their kitchen to prep the lunch and another offered their parking lot to hand them out. We were locked out of the kitchen one Sunday and had to put sandwiches together in the wind-blown parking lot. And one person was assigned swatting duty when a group of ravenous hornets descended (they wanted our sandwich meat.) It was a bit more adventurous than we had planned, but all was well in the end.

I'm digressing, as usual. Because of Sunday Lunch, I am more aware than ever of the people in our community who are living in their vehicles or tents, of families whose budgets are so strapped that a jar of mayonnaise is a luxury, of teens and children who are often left on their own as the adults in their lives struggle with many, many challenges. Because of Solid Rock Cafe's invitation to us to partner with them, people can come in out of the cold, enjoy a hot meal, listen to live music, and feel normal for an hour and a half. We'll deliver meals to those who dare not use the gas they have to travel to the cafe; they budget every precious drop of gasoline for heat. People were also significantly affected by Kitsap Transit's decision to discontinue service on Sundays, so we're open to giving people a ride in if they need one.

The cafe was purchased by The Coffee Oasis, a coffeehouse/deli in Bremerton that provides a safe place for teens to hang out, especially the homeless ones. The Coffee O staff plan to make the Solid Rock Cafe the same kind of refuge for South Kitsap teens, with the blessing of the Solid Rock's landlord (Debbie Macomber.) It is a tremendous honor to be partnering with these folk.

Someone sent a link to a wonderful Youtube video recently, footage of a college group singing The Twelve Days of Christmas. If you decide to watch, be sure to turn the sound up. You don't want to miss a word.

Overheard on Twitter: According to @mchristi, having a Kindle and buying real books makes you "bitextual".

Next time: hard to predict. Stay tuned.