Unitarian Hymnal Sing-along

In which Kathryn attempts to sing a different song everyday from the Unitarian Universalist hymnal, 'Singing the Living Tradition'. Earlier posts are based on songs from the Reader's Digest songbooks she found at yard sales as a child, including: 'Reader's Digest Treasury of Best Loved Songs', 'Reader's Digest Family Songbook', and 'Reader's Digest Family Songbook of Faith and Joy'. Bonus Folk song material from: 'Folk Song USA', by John and Alan Lomax.

31 January 2006


How come 'Moonglow' is one word but 'Star Dust' is two? Questions like this haunt me. Maybe. I forgot to mention that the first section in this book is titled 'Sweet and Swing Hits of the Thirties'. Should be nice, and this one is that, besides being good practice for my 'oh' and 'oo' sounds, which I'm not doing in the most efficient and natural way. It's difficult when I have trouble associating the way things sound from the inside of my head, with the way they feel to perform, at least the best forms of each of these. Yet another learning. This song is quite fun to sing.

Today I'm thinking about history. I'm always reviewing in my head, for whatever reason, where things came from. I can tell you where the clothes I'm wearing came from at any moment: if they were on sale, or gifts, or from a thrift store, or hand-me-overs, how long I've had them, other assorted facts of where I wore them. This shirt was a hand-me-over, the pyjamas were an impulse buy at Target, but darn useful, since I don't have many pjs that I really like. I have one skirt that I'll always associate with a shop at Fells Point in Baltimore, because I bought it the week after I was held up at gun point in Silver Springs. I could show you the necklace I bought after Father Jim died. I paid $55 dollars, or my parents did, for a flute at a yard sale when I was about twelve. My sister-in-law bought me these magnets on my filing cabinet, and they have a lot of stick for how small they are. She got them at Target, too. My friend, Sean, gave me this soapstone candle holder. He also called tonight to say hello, and I missed his call, so I'm thinking of him. My friend Steve got me this framed poster hanging beside me, and the artist, Paul Palnik, drew me into it.

Everything is connected all across my life, and I feel very aware of those connections. I play them in my head backwards and forwards to remind me of how it all fits together, how I fit inside of the web of it all. It's comforting.

Once upon a time, in college, I picked up a flyer for Free University courses. I decided to try one, 'Women's Spirituality', taught by a woman named Marisa. I ended up being the only person to show up, and Marisa and I became friends. Through her, I ended up going to an alternative gathering of sorts at a beautiful site in New York State called Brushwood. There I met an amazing man wearing a skirt. We got somewhat involved, and he invited me to another gathering, called Lumensgate, where I met another fabulous person, Diana. We corresponded (ah! those zany pre-ubiquitous-emails days!), and the next year we decided to travel to this gathering again, together. I brought my twelve-year-old sister (exposing her to adult male nakedness, and scarring her for life, she tells me now). On the way there, we stayed in Pittsburgh at Diana's house, and I met her housemate, this dark haired hippy-ish guy who liked me mostly because I didn't want to share his dessert, he said. And much later, I married him, had my daughter. It's even cooler that I still know all the people along that path. But it all started when I took the free course. Life is fun.

30 January 2006

"Star Dust"

And here we are, in a new songbook! Not that a three years later copyright is going to matter overmuch, I feel. Still, it's weirdly satisfying to have finished one book, and to be starting on a new one. I do have one more that I could go to after this one, but then, who knows. I'll begin the search on eBay at some point. No rush, with the 114 songs in this book for starters.

So: 'Star Dust'. This is a three-pager, and it's quite a complex song. They note that this was the first song they thought of for this book, and talk about how popular it is. I'm not sure that I would know it at all if it weren't the first song in this book, I had looked some at these books over the years. I think this is a piece worth spending time with, and that I would have to do so to come to appreciate it fully. Right now, having played it through twice today, and sung it three or four times, I'm just still not sure what I think of it.

Over the years I've been good at keeping friends, and that mostly has consisted of keeping in touch with them. I'm good with addresses, phone numbers, birthdays (for the most part, though having a child disrupted my card-sending, but I do still think of everyone, do not doubt it). Some people have dropped by the wayside, some deliberately, and some that I've lost due to circumstances beyond my control. There is a good handfull that I'm still trying to locate, and I can't think of anyone that I wouldn't want to hear from today, even if I might not choose to pursue the relationship fully at this point in my life. And that is a time issue more than anything else: I have trouble finding time to talk to the friends I have, who are so very dear to me. If they could all know how much I think of them all. I wonder if everyone is like this. Somewhere, is someone thinking of me? Someone who's not reading my blog?

For a long time it was a point of honor for me to keep my friends through thick and thin, long term, be the steady soul, patient beyond all patience. Eventually life happened: at different times, a couple of large, world-rocking events led me to understand that sometimes, even if the love is there, the friendship needs to dissolve, be totally released. I know the world is mysterious, and who knows what the future will bring, but the speck of me that is still wishing for those friendships to come again is miniscule, just this side of invisible. I don't hold out any real hope, and that's the big lesson that I had to learn. It doesn't make me less of a friend, I can still even define myself as someone who holds friendships close and dear. And if there was love there, it is still somewhere suspended in time, in my memory if no where else. It had a good place in my world, and it is a stone in my foundation.

I agonize over the friendships where things are not so clear, neither here, nor then and there. Are we still friends when we haven't spoken in a year, and things weren't going so well when we stopped speaking? Am I forgiven for letting all this time pass? How about the people I just can't seem to find the time for, because I would need at least an hour or two to catch up as I want to? I want to so badly, but where is that hour? I'm always really glad when one of these friends calls me, because what I can still do is drop everything, that is still one of my gifts: Talk to me, dear friend, tell me what's new. Let me tell you I still love you. You should know right now that you're in my heart.

29 January 2006

"The Star Spangled Banner"

At last, the piece that actually is our national anthem. Although the lyrics are gory, and the tune is not original, it is a stirring song. A challenging range, which either calls the soloist to new heights, or just makes it difficult for the average person to sing, you decide. Most importantly today, it is the last song in this book. Tomorrow is a new beginning.

This project is a good thing for me. It's brought together in an organized and disciplined way my piano and vocal projects. Yesterday I went back and sang the first song from this book, 'Avalon', and read the post I wrote 124 days ago, and both the original singing experience and its post feel very different time. I'm looking forward to seeing where I am at the end of the next book.

Binky commented that I should be writing for myself, but if that were true, I'd be writing in my journal, or journaling on the computer, if I felt the need for the instant-edit. There is something worthwhile for me in writing for you, in writing that which will be read by someone. Thanks to all of you who are following along. Please continue to let me know what you think.

28 January 2006


For whatever reason, my daughter didn't like this song, though I do. Again, even with all the 'God' language, this also seems a better choice for an anthem than 'bombs bursting in air'. And again, no one asked me, alas.

This morning I played my song, and you'd think I would learn my lesson, but I did it again: I planned out what this evening's post would be, in considerable detail. And then my day happened. I had had this clear idea of the outline of the day, and it crashed into smithereens fairly early on, due to circumstances beyond my control. My daughter and I ended up having quite a nice day, pleasant low-key shopping with a great lunch in the middle (without having to be away on vacation in Maine or England), which seemed miraculous and eye-opening, for starters, given the inauspicious beginning.

And here I am, at the end of the day, and this morning's post ideas (made before the crash, and having nothing to do with my plans for the day) seem ridiculously outdated. As if, somehow, I had grown through the day, become a slightly different person by its end. The fact that I am, indeed, different, isn't really a surprise.

There is a part of me that is always striving to 'grow up' somehow: get better, become more responsible, more organized, more authentic and whole. I am always aware that my time here might be shorter than I know, but even if I have decades to go, that still doesn't feel like enough. What if I take up painting or cello playing at 75? There's so much I need to finish up before then! I want to figure me out, as best as I can, shake out the goo, clean the cracks, trim the trees, plant the seeds. I knew long ago that I would never be in danger of being bored.

Tomorrow I write the last post for this book, and I've decided to keep on to the next one. There's a lot of learning to be done, yet. Zoom, zoom.

27 January 2006

"When Johnny Comes Marching Home"

My daughter really liked this one, she had me play it twice this morning while she danced. Somehow, that seems ok. It is a fun bouncy tune, and at least I don't hate it. Not very high praise, but true.

My husband's away for the weekend, his weekend away to hang out with friends. A good thing. But tonight I just feel down and lonely. I'll feel better tomorrow.

I thought of so many good things to write about today, too. My husband has our car, so I walked a lot today and yesterday, mostly back and forth to work and my daughter's school. That's always good time to think, as well as a time to remember when we didn't have a car at all, and walked or biked everywhere out of necessity. Today it made me very happy with my iPod. What a fabulous feature that 'shuffle songs' is, I never know what's going to come up, and it makes every song sound bright and shiny and new. It's also listening through the headphones though, which I haven't done in years. All the nuances of each song so clear, so stereo.

Even when I'm feeling low, there are always good things. The sun was shining today, the tunes were good.

26 January 2006

"The Marine's Hymn"

I think my daughter could sense that this wasn't one of my favorites when I sang it this morning. There's no reason why I should have any personal attachment to it, not being a Marine, related to a Marine, or knowing what the 'halls of Montezuma' referred to until today. It is very interesting to know, however, that the tune of this piece originated as an Offenbach march in an opera buffe; and that these writers, at least, have no idea who thought to put these words to this. (And the spell checker, which I just discovered in this context today, comes up with 'monotheism' for 'Montezuma'. Surely that means something as well.)

A couple of people lately have referred to me as 'non-judgemental' and 'forgiving' (not my daughter). I think mostly it's that I'm so aware of my many flaws and faults that I feel I want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Then maybe they'll forgive me when I really goof, which could (and does) happen at any moment. So it's still all about me, I think. I also do believe that the glass is half full, and I assume that people in general are good, and well-meaning. Being lazy is the worst crime. It takes a gentle persistence to keep that at bay, and it can be tiring. But like most things, practice helps.

Sometimes I do run into people who are flawed or less-than-gifted in some consistent way that affects our friendship: they're liars, or unreliable, or judgemental, or angry, or socially clueless. If I feel some deeper connection with these people, I don't give them up, it's just helpful to know what the rules are. And sometimes, for example, it's useful to have a friend who's willing to be angry on my behalf; comforting, even, to know that someone is holding that for me. Lastly, it's true that I have been all those things: a liar, unreliable, judgemental, etc. Think kindly on me, please, as I continue to stumble along. I'll hold you up a bit, if you'd like, if you'll lend a shoulder now and then.

25 January 2006

"America The Beautiful"

This song felt hard to sing, which was dissappointing, since I had my voice lesson today, and I would hope that would help. I do agree with those who think that this would be a better national anthem than 'The Star Spangled Banner' (coming soon!). I'd like to feel that 'amber waves of grain' are straightforwardly patriotic in a way that 'bombs bursting in air' just cannot be.

Life is about things being difficult. Now, that sounds fairly Buddhist to me, which probably points out my ignorance in a multitude of ways. But there is truth in the fact that difficulties can be seen as challenges, and without challenges we would not grow. My tradition makes demands upon me every so often in the form of seeking out things that will rock my world. Ideally these things should be profound and create evident and positive change, but should not uproot me so radically that my self cannot function in the world at large. Some changes can seem small from another's perspective, and yet inside me, they start a chain reaction of thoughts, decisions, and realizations that result in big things indeed. For example, all of this was brought on today by something that happened in my half hour voice lesson, which one may not find to be the most fertile field for self exploration and yet, today, it was.

On the other hand, I'm still really tired. I am craving comforts: a good book, some time knitting, and sewing, cuddled someplace warm, taking a bath, red wine. Could I possibly get all of these at once, please? Life is just difficult.

24 January 2006

"Abide With Me"

I really like this one. It's a bit of a tear jerker, I bet. If I can feel that now, and I don't know it well, it would be more so if you heard it sung at your grandmother's funeral. Besides: Abide with me. That's just a really beautiful phrase.

I've had people tell me that things that I said to them years ago really stuck in their heads, influenced their lives. I know that's true for me: certain phrases, or advice, or images really moving me, so it's always interesting that I've never been able to remember saying whatever bit of wisdom was the shining star for them. Was I channelling in that moment, or what? What is it about someone else's offhand bit of brilliance that is so brilliant? Is it just far enough, yet just near enough our own understanding to give us that boost into a broader horizon? Does it capture our fancy by a lucky turn of phrase, combined with a word order that's uncommon enough in our own lexicon to be memorable? Why do I still think of David whenever I use 'also' instead of 'too'? What about my brother's outstretched hand in that church service still holds the idea of commitment to me today? Why do I still remember Wayne (who I barely knew, really) saying, 'It's not a party til someone breaks out the dictionary'?

I don't know. This evening I feel more full of questions than answers, though not in an uncomfortable way. I've been, as my friend, Larry, would say, 'A blur to the naked eye'. No time to give my brother his (not) 'daily phone call'. Holding in my heart the truth that (as my Mom would say), 'If your only problems are money problems, you're in good company'. Feeling in so many ways, close to so very many people who I see and speak to way too little. But never fear, you're in more than my thoughts, you're in my habits of thinking; somehow very much, and very consciously, in my daily life.

23 January 2006

"Onward, Christian Soldiers"

I might just be numbing myself to the language after a whole group of these songs, but this one also seemed not so horrible, stirring with its martial tune, even. Unless you consider the rather telling title. Ugh. I've never thought people with guns talking about the glory of God to be a selling point. The songbook will be over soon.

Hoorah for the mini-ra-rahs! That would be the technical term for my own personal inner cheering squad. When I was a deeply cynical and sarcastic teenager, prone to oh-so-many angst driven bouts of low self esteem, even then, I had the ra-rahs. They felt smaller then, and their voice was very quiet, but I made what felt like a radical decision to let them speak, to let myself know that there was love somewhere for me. I was worthy of love, somewhere, and life was worth living. I chose the path of the inner ra-rahs.

The other day I was having a fairly difficult day, not just tired, but hungry and headachy and entirely out of sorts, and there was a part of me that recognized that I was in the land of potentially very bad decision making. I'm not sure that it was the same ra-rahs that helped me out here, that original squad has morphed into something else, I think, but maybe they're cousins to these folks. Because I felt the tiny voice again, this time saying 'ra! ra! yes! you managed to not make a bad decision right there! ok, you didn't make a good decision, but nothing is better than the bad here, oh yes! ra! ra! ok, can you do it again, make a very small good decision--yes! yes! that was tiny beyond belief, but it was good! good and tiny! ra! ra!'.

There is something to be said for peopling our inner landscape with good things, specialized little parts of ourselves to take over very important things. Then, the big step is still that choice to listen, to know that the right action is often not the easiest, but that we can still be our own best friend on the path our souls guide us most clearly towards.

22 January 2006

"Whispering Hope"

This song was written by the same man who wrote 'Where, O Where, Has My Little Dog Gone', though that is in no way obvious. I know the dog song, but this one was new to me today. It's rather nice, in a predictable, lyrical, words-that-could-be-saying-anything kind of way.

Today the Steelers won. That's an American football team, for all of you who live under a rock, or not in Pittsburgh. This means that our home-town team gets to go to the Super Bowl in two weeks, which is very exciting for us. Or, rather, them, since I really don't care very much about football, personally. But I believe that it falls in the same category as the church services that one attends, or whatever anyone's particular subject of devotion might be: it is something to respect, and speak no ill of. I respect the dedication to football that so many of my neighbors have.

Today I was just falling asleep, a very long overdue and much needed nap, when my husband called to say that the game was over: I could come and pick him and my daughter up from their game-watching party. On the way from the East End to Mount Lebanon in the South Hills it was never quiet. Horns were honking for over an hour, with 'Terrible Towels' waving out car windows and tied to roof racks. Black and gold banners of every sort were on most of the neighborhood houses. Enthusiastic young men were energetically posing on street corners, pumping their fists, some wearing amazingly little, considering the cold evening. I think I may have seen someone masturbating on, or with, some gold balloons, before releasing them into the sky. It was a generally extremely excited city this evening. Even my reserved British husband took the opportunity to 'let loose', just a little.

But it is truly not my thing. I went to Penn State for more than the normally alloted four years, and managed to never attend a football game (even when my choir performed at half time) which is impressive, and possibly illegal in that county. During the Super Bowl I'm thinking of going shopping. I've heard that the normally crowded newer shopping centers are pleasantly quiet on a Sunday afternoon when the Steelers are playing, though it's also possible that they will be closed entirely. Maybe I'll get that nap, then.

21 January 2006

"A Mighty Fortress is Our God"

Maria and I were looking at this one yesterday, and discovered that, at least in the hymnal that I have, the words have been 'modernized'. What's the point if you don't get to sing 'bulwark never failing'? This is a classic, with all that entails.

I got to spend some time with my friend, Diana, this evening, which was really lovely, and healing to my soul. Not that I was feeling particulary in need of healing, as such, but there is something very fine in spending time with an old friend, quality dumping of issues and experiences with a beloved other. Oftentimes I do get quite lonely on a daily basis, even and especially if I am busy with work. This past year I commited anew to doing a job of service: my clients are paying me for my time, and not only am I responsible to do the best massage I can with them, I am also responsible for respecting their wishes to speak or not. More often, people choose to be silent, which is my choice most often as well, when receiving bodywork. There certainly is a kind of communication that happens without speech, but it doesn't always ease all of me. That is not the point of my work, though, but it is the reality of my job, and most jobs, that my needs will not necessarily be met all of the time.

It does make me especially grateful for evenings with good friends. Thank you!

20 January 2006

"Faith of Our Fathers"

My friend, Maria, and I have this thing going where we're still very attached to the Catholic hymns of our youth. We've each not-really-on-purpose 'stolen' hymnals from relative's funerals to help remember *all* the songs we loved. This doesn't exactly sync with my present spirituality, but we're choosing to ignore that. This is a great song for me, very grand and powerful. My favorite Catholic song, though, is still 'Be Not Afraid'. It still makes me cry every time. Sometimes I think it's the emotional power created that's more important than the philosophy expressed, perhaps in anything.

Tonight Maria was over and we worked on a couple of the songs that my husband wrote for us to sing. He'd really like Emma Kirkby and Custer LaRue to be singing these, but he has to make do with the two of us for the moment. The three songs that he's written for us are all based on Tolkien texts, and each is beautiful. The 'Elbereth Gilthoniel' is the last one that we need to learn, it's both the shortest and the hardest, as well as being the most absolutely ethereal and shivery. There's something about controlled dissonance in song that makes me exquisitely happy.

We also tried to finish off some of the liquor left over from the Epiphany party. I'm sleepy.

19 January 2006

"Rock of Ages"

An old song, and an even older poem for the lyrics. I don't find this as problematic as the last song, mostly because the language is very archaic, it's easier to let it flow over me. I'm not sure that I ever knew more than the title of this, words-wise, before today, though I know the whole of the melody. They note here that this is a very popular song for funerals.

Today was a long day, work-wise. This evening I found it very difficult to concentrate during my last massage, which is oddly enough usually not a bad thing for the client, since when I'm tired I always go long, and no one complains about that.

I continue to feel very lucky in my job of late. Today someone referred to my profession as an example of 'honorable work.' I like that. It's a good thing, a great gift, to have a job that feels worthwhile, meaningful, fufilling. I know how completely great that is, and as hard as I've worked towards this end, I still feel somewhat lucky to be here, doing what I do. A very tired 'yahoo' to that.

18 January 2006

"I'll Walk With God"

Ok, the truth is out. I'm not a God-girl; at least, not this kind of god. It was very hard to get through this song, which is a shame, since it has a lot of nice harmonies in the piano part, and it's three pages. . . and it's three pages! Why couldn't this be one of the short ones? In case anyone was holding their breath, be assured that I am not going to someday go through the Reader's Digest Book: Songs of Faith and Devotion. And I do own it, but only for 'When You Walk Through a Storm', which makes me cry, though the movie sucked to the point of being entirely offensive.

My sister, and my nephew, and lots of other people I know, call themselves atheists. The closest I could come to that would be 'agnostic', but that's not even accurate, just maybe on off days, or alternate Mondays.

I am very appreciative of the world's mysteries, and humble enough to know that the world holds many things that would and do amaze me with their improbability, weirdness, or beauty. I'm enough of a scientist to be very skeptical of things that have not been proven, but I'm a mystic, too, and I've had experiences that have been too powerful to ignore, too coincidental or powerful to be chance or fever. But when all is said and done, I can't believe that the Supreme Deity, if He/She exists, can really be bothered too much with any one of us. Like Santa, it's more fun to believe that Someone is at least watching occasionally, the big pattern, if not the little bits. Sheri Tepper in the book 'Grass' has one of her characters speculate that humanity is like a virus, set on Earth with a purpose; and maybe we're not doing so well, a failed experiment. Or maybe we're still in progress.

Beyond all this, I'm not a God-girl because I'm female. If I'm going to believe, I will make Her in my image. Without the glaring flaws.

17 January 2006

"The Battle Hymn of the Republic"

Entering the final section of this book today, only about a dozen or so posts to go from this volume. This section is called 'Music to Lift the Spirit'. Hmmm. This one does have quite a catchy marching beat, though it's just not really 'me'. This song has many totally different sets of words, starting with 'John Brown's Body', and is another song originating around the time of the Civil War. I was going through a Stephen Foster songbook yesterday, looking for songs to sing with my singing group, and that's another big source for the Civil War-era tunes: lots and lots of death everywhere. We decided to veto anything about dead children. It seems in very poor taste for a school performance. And look what happened to Mahler.

I have acheived a new level of bad parenting, and it will haunt me for a good long while. As part of my 'new computer celebration', I purchased, off eBay, the original Sims game, and an expansion. This is the first computer that I've had that will run this game. It almost makes up for the fact that my very favorite game of all, Civilization, in its latest version will still not run on this computer. My G3 processor just doesn't have what it takes. I'm very sad about this, and aware of my intense geekiness, as well.

At any rate, I've just started to play this game, creating my first Sim family a few days ago. I'm still figuring it all out, it seems a little slow, but interesting enough, and a decent sacred stupid activity to engage in. My daughter saw the game in action and asked to start a family of her own. Stupidly, I saw no harm in this (what about the Teen rating on the package? hello?!!). So we create her Sim family, parents and a little girl, who is immediately sent off to school. The father of the family is making breakfast, the stove catches fire, he attempts to extinguish it, catches fire, and dies. Oh dear sweet Goddess. The figure of Death even shows up to take him away, as I stare in shock. My daughter is hysterical, screaming. I shut down the game without saving it. My husband runs out from the downstairs shower, dripping wet in his towel, sure that some physical catastrophe has happened. My daughter will not be comforted. She is afraid to go to bed that night, afraid for me to leave her at school the next day, very clingy. We try to explain that games are different, contained artificially, with their own rules. We hug her a lot, and comfort her as best we can. I am going to agonize over this for a long time.

We don't speak down to our daughter, and she has a fairly impressive vocabulary and understanding of the world because of this. And sometimes we forget that she is not just a minature adult, she is a child, with a child's understanding of the world, or misunderstanding thereof. This is an understandable forgetting in some ways, but I still feel horrible.

Tonight, after we read our book, turned out the light and sang our song, she was still feeling unable to sleep, and in need of comfort. I know that the answer for us is not to let her sleep in our bed, as much as she would like that, and I did the best thing I could think to do. I asked her to imagine strong warrior angels around her bed, protecting her. We named them: Raphael, Michael, Gabriel, Uriel. We gave them their colors, animals friends, necessary props. Since this is another gift we have given her, this gift of imagination, belief in magic and energetic protection, I'm hoping that the gift can counteract my gross mistake in some measure. I beseech the archangels for their support.

16 January 2006

"On Top of Old Smokey"

An old and overdone song, especially when you throw in the 'On Top of Spaghetti' version. I'm not sure whether to be proud or ashamed that my brother thought to call me to find out all the verses to the latter. I knew them. I do like the piano accompaniment here, it's a bit different, more serious sounding. Maybe it also helps to sing all the 'serious' verses.

My sister commented over the weekend about my 'smell', and she meant it in a good way. She's attuned to the smells of things, perhaps more than I am, which feels significant, since I am very conscious of my own higher-than-normal sensuality. She said that the smell of Home Depot reminds her of my dad, also. She and my brother brought up my own fondness for patchouli: by the way, from this point on I'm going to fully own up to that, and embrace it wholeheartedly. Hippie image be damned.

My sister is fifteen years younger than I am. There are less years between me and my mom's youngest sister (twelve) and also between my sister and my nephew (ten). Considering this, I'm glad to feel that I know her as well as I do, but she still surprises me all the time, and I wish I knew her better. It's very odd to have a sibling, and my only sister, in an entirely different generation than I am. We share none of the same growing-up television shows, or toys. To compound the matter, we look nothing alike. She's the adorable one, and that's not just her relative age. I feel old and decidedly un-cool around her, but I think that's just my lot in life at this point, my job as the big sister. Maybe she'll let some of her hipness rub off on me, if I'm very lucky. I promise not to think again that you'd ever wear Sketchers, dear, though I'm not getting rid of my own. I have to keep my image up (not cool? not a hippie? chick wearing black?).

15 January 2006

"Aura Lee"

Most people know this tune as 'Love Me Tender', but it was originally a Civil War song. Pretty cool. It also reminds me of Tolkien's saga of Beren and Luthien, something about the 'maid of golden hair'. It is a sweet tune, besides all that.

I wouldn't say that I'm empathic in the freaky 'I sense what you're feeling, oooooo!' kind of way, at least not most of the time. But there is something of empathy in my tendency to put myself in another's place, habitually. As a massage therapist this is very useful, I'm imagining what everything might feel like if I were the one on the table. But in the rest of my life as well, I regularly consider what it might be to walk in the other person's shoes, and it gives me some extra sympathy, and patience, as I go about my day.

When I was a kid, in kindergarten, and the bigger kids were mean to me, I decided then and there (one of those light-bulb memorable moments) that when *I* got big, I would be nice to the little kids. Even then I knew this was in stark contrast to the kids who were equally determined to have their own chance to be mean when they got older. These days driving a car seems to me to be one of the best ways to look at how the world works: do you let other people merge, or not? Do you speed up or slow down when pedestrians are waiting to cross? How much attention are you paying to what you're doing, your actions and their consequences? It renews my faith in the world when I have a driving experience full of strangers being nice to me. Recently I've been paying more attention to older drivers, grey-haired folks driving excruciatingly slow. And I'm thinking to myself: someday that will be me. As impatient as I am today, I will try to breathe and be nice to this little old lady, as crazy as she's making me, because I will be that woman someday.

14 January 2006

"Puff the Magic Dragon"

My husband hates this song. My daughter and I are quite fond of it, though. I saw Peter, Paul and Mary performing live some years ago, and this is one of the highlights. When they sang, everyone sang along. To pretty much everything. It's one of my visions of an ideal world.

Feeling warm and cozy this evening, having spent the afternoon and early evening with members of the extended family, on my mom's side. We do this every year, usually around this holiday weekend. It's gotten fairly hectic and crowded since my generation starting working on creating the next generation (thank goodness we're a little slow, I'm one of eleven grandchildren, but so far there are only six in the next batch). I have missed it some years, including last year, and Christmas isn't the same without the strange and fun theme gifts being thrown across the room (this year it was beach towels, as well as the ubiquitous scratch and win lottery tickets), absent cousins calling up to be harassed about not being there, all in a very small suburban house. I think there were only about 22 of us this year, we had a few folks unable to make it.

I have more fun with my cousins as the years go by. I'm a bit older than most of them, and in retrospect it feels like I've been waiting a long time for everyone to grow up and play with me. In the past we've gone out later and gone bowling or roller skating, but this year a significant chunk of folks had to head home. I do miss the days of all of us piling in the van, when, as eldest, I took the opportunity to grill everyone on their progress towards certain milestones of growing up: first kiss, first date, other firsts which shall go unnamed here. What is said in the van, stays in the van.

13 January 2006

"Blue-Tail Fly"

A slave song, with its unhappy connotations. Though with this one, the master dies at the end, bitten by that old blue tail fly. I can sense the concealed glee over this, and wonder if there is deeper symbolism somewhere in there. Blue. Fly. Hmmm.

I would love to write a longer post this evening, but I literally have miles to go before I sleep.

Instead, this brief appreciation of my new wall calendars: Last year, like most years, I bought my calendars, for work and home, after Christmas, when all the calendars are half-off. I did ok with the work one, but the at-home calendar was disappointing. I took no joy in turning to a new month, there was no happiness at gazing at the picture, on the wall here beside my computer. This year, when I couldn't find calendars that I wanted in the store, I took the radical step of ordering online, after January 1st, even, paying less than full price, but more than half. It felt like a wild splurge of sorts, but I am already very content. How lovely my calendars are. Pretty water's edge pictures at work, lovely magickal woodcut designs at home. Ah. Ah.

12 January 2006

"Red River Valley"

All these smaltzy silly songs, but somehow this one, I like. No less overheard, either. Maybe it's the evocative image: the red river valley. Red clay river, river valley full of trees along the rushing water. Nice.

Yesterday was a weird time-day. My sense of where I was in the normal time-stream was incredibly skewed. Everything took three times as long as I thought that it would or should. Moreover, I deliberately made bad timing decisions, unable to stop myself in the same way that sometimes I am unable to stop myself from spending twenty dollars that I know that I don't have. I am not gifted or skilled at timing-things under the best circumstances, but yesterday was really particularly bad. Luckily, one of the super-hero skills that I've developed to compensate for such things is not caring so much about being late. The world has certainly not ended yet because of my personal tardiness. And in most cases, I'm not actually late at all, which makes up for the occassional lack of time-comprehension.

Now I will stay up later than I should reading, having already stayed up later than I should watching gripping British criminal drama.

11 January 2006

"Careless Love"

I'm not inspired by this one, though it--like the other songs in this section, typically--includes multiple verses, which is always good. I'm a great believer in singing all the verses.

I'm thinking about life-arcs. We start out as babies who believe that we are the world. It takes decades before we can really grasp in its entirety the reality that we are not the world anymore than anyone else is, and that we all have to share. We spend the center and the bulk of our lives, usually, taking care of others: our children, our partners, our pets, our parents. Significantly, we end up taking care of our parents since they're moving inevitably sooner to the other end of the arc, when again the world becomes centered on us. I suspect that it doesn't matter at this far end if we know that this isn't exactly true, it's more that we don't care, or can't be bothered. I'll try to get back to you on the subtleties from that end when I get there.

If we're lucky, or rich, or really selfish, we have blocks of time somewhere in the middle when we can focus more on our own needs, rather than those of others. And not just the basic needs--food, drink, shelter, love, etc.--but the ones a bit higher on Maslow's hierarchy: creative projects, gaining broader recognition for our efforts, deep thinking about the meaning of life, and what legacy we will leave.

I've always been fascinated with the idea that some cultures, particularly Indian, that I know of, acknowledge that we will pass through various stages in our lives. This implies that it is proper and good to be at different places at different times, and as much as change still frightens me a bit, it is comforting to know that this is somewhat predictable. I think of my daughter: now with her need to spend time getting dirty, exploring the world, challenging her boundaries. At some point she'll be a teenager, raging against all the unfairness in the world, reveling in the high drama of the human condition, developing her own ideals and dreams of what the world should be. And then she'll become something else entirely, over time.

I'm not so sure that I have as clear of a view of either where I am, or should be, or could be right now. Time will give me perspective, I'm sure. But things do change. Things shift, settle, break up or down entirely or partially, re-settle, re-shift, again and again. I can't predict any of it for sure. But I know that things will change.

10 January 2006


I love this song, have loved it for many years. To me it is lush, and river-like, simple and simply beautiful. I also forgot to mention that we are now, and have been for a few days, in the new folk song section of this book. Just one more section to go, and less than three weeks left of posts.

I'm struggling with my need for an audience, for a certain kind of attention. I am heartily disliking even thinking about this struggle, which feels incredibly child-like and needy, but it is there: I still need to be heard and seen by the people I care for. It's an issue with this blog, certainly. I'm leaning towards continuing this process here, the benefits to my singing and piano playing and writing practice easily outweigh the lack of readers. I still haven't given up on increasing the readership a little, as well. But even if I can't, I think I'd be content with writing these posts to my imaginary audience. That would still fit the practice.

There are few people who really understand what it means to me to be playing the piano, actually taking lessons, finally: my Mom, my oldest friend, Erica, and Erica's mother, who is an honorary parent to me. After two years of taking lessons, this last weekend my mother became the first of these three to actually hear me play. For various reasons, it still didn't work. My mother still did not have the chance to really hear me play, as far as I'm concerned, and I still feel very unhappy and unresolved around the whole thing. Again the question is: How much do I need an audience? And how immature is it to be hurt when my audience is not present for whatever reasons? Why do I care--either about being heard, or about appearing immature?

09 January 2006

"Four Strong Winds"

This is a Canadian folk song that I didn't know, it's not bad. It has a nice, traditional feel.

I feel like a tightrope walker these days, determined to get my balance. Or maybe it's more like walking on the strands of a spider's web, catching my balance, as well as trying to not get stuck anywhere. I'm finding it difficult to speak with any clarity about my life, and what's happening in it. I've determined that my head is a bit full, but I'm only in the problem-identification phase, no where near the problem-solving phase for this element.

Although it seems a bit counter-productive, I have been able to actually relax with a book a bit lately, which I believe to be a good sign for the long term. My personal batteries have not been charged lately, and this is a start. As my friend, Patricia, would say, I haven't had enough sacred stupid time. For me this is either reading books that do not require much brain power (some novels work, the history of Henry VIII's wives does not) or playing computer games (personal favorite of old is Civilization, but I just got the Sims, which looks to be adequately engrossing and distracting as well).

I am trying to figure out if this blog project is worth continuing beyond this current songbook. I have at least one more book that I could go through, and I'm liking the singing so much that I'd do it for that reason alone. Beyond the la-la, the discipline of daily writing is still good, and I am accepting better the reality that though most days will yield no gold in that regard, when I least expect it, something I write will click for me, and work. And sight reading a piece on piano every day has noticeably improved my skills in that area.

I think I will remind and encourage friends to read again. If that doesn't work, I'll need to re-evaluate my needs to be heard, to write, to sing, and to play. Is this the combination here that can work, or do I need to re-form these elements in some other way? What do I really think, believe, and need around the issues of being heard?

08 January 2006

"Blowin' In the Wind"

It seems so odd to be singing this song in a piano context. It lacks all the folk pull and passion. Because this is one of my favorite Peter, Paul & Mary songs, my daughter knows it, and ran right over to sing all the verses with me. Something very satisfying in that, at least.

Things are not gelling in my head as I'd like this evening, and I'm so tired that my eyes hurt. No one seems to be reading this, also, which is not unexpected--life carries us away all the time, and I know that better than anyone--but it takes some of the meaning out of 'writing for an audience'. Brief whine, and then bed, then.

07 January 2006


In the middle of a fabulous party here, where my determination to still sing the song of the day created a fabulous sing-a-long caroling session, which then became Maria and I singing for my mom, and is still going on with fabulous folks, conversations, drink and food and good people. Life is good this evening. And somehow I'm even still writing this blog. Yahoo indeed.

06 January 2006

"Black is the Color"

I have always liked this song. I wish it were longer here, that I knew more verses of it. I am pretty partial to the dark haired men, too. My friend, Veronica, and I, while singing together as kids, always changed the pronouns appropriately in songs to suit our own preferences.

I had an imaginary friend while growing up. My two brothers were relatively close in age to me, but they played together more than they played with me. So for company, I had my imaginary friend. A boy my age, dark haired, green-eyed, and we had all sorts of adventures together. I always imagined us in a black and white world, literally, since I didn't dream in color until my parents got a color television. At one point I had other imaginary creature friends, a dog, a cat, a bird, but they all faded away, leaving just me and him.

The interesting thing is that he stuck around for a long, long time. I can't say that we went on adventures anymore as time went on, but sometimes I would think of him and he could comfort me when I was lonely, my own personal cheering squad. Much later, I wondered if he was my animus personified. Later still, when I had more trouble bringing him to mind, I imagined that he found his own life somehow, split off on his own series. But there will always be a part of me still in that child-like belief, a part of me that expects to turn a corner someday and see him, recognizing him immediately. We will smile. Magic is good.

05 January 2006

"I Love You Truly"

This is one of the songs that I played on the little push-button chord organ at my grandparents house, when I was a kid. My grandfather's favorite song, though, was 'Lara's theme (from Dr. Zhivago)'. I wouldn't mind hearing that. It would be ok if I never play or sing this one again. Yawn.

I'm going to be turning forty this year, which is fine. The real question: how do I celebrate this year? For the past ten years, or more, I've thrown myself a party every year. Different themes every time: Paris (invites were passports that we stamped, folks could come as a Parisian, model, prostitute, or tourist; we learned to French inhale), Rio/Carnaval (debut of the rum punch, which kept re-appearing under less valid excuses in successive years), Rainforest (I had great pants), Aliens (not a huge turnout, but again, great pants, they were blue and shiny), Goth (particularly good with guest commitment to costume, weren't you the one wearing black?), Pyjama (no excuse to not have a costume), Lord of the Rings (by far the most elaborate, and we gave people trivia quizzes and painted our bathroom as Moria), and the Sixties (also great costume commitment, as well as good range of the sixties themes).

So, do I throw my own party again this year? What kind of theme could possibly measure up? Togas? Superheros? Cave Painting? Paris returns? I had originally been thinking 'Beach', but after being in St. John this year that seems lame compared to actually being on a real beach. So should I travel instead? Go snorkeling from a white sand blue water beach, or hike up to Manchu Pichu? Have someone else throw me a party, maybe even appoint a party committee? Go out dancing with a huge crowd of friends?

Months away at the moment, but I'll need to have some clue a few months from now. It just has to be good. I'm a huge believer in birthdays. It's the one day each person has a year that is their own. Ok, you might share it with someone else you even know. Nevertheless, it's a chance to be celebrated, honored, cherished. Happy Birthday. We're glad that you were born, and now you're in our lives. Yes, you. Yes--You.

04 January 2006

"Oh, Promise Me"

This is a classic wedding song, from 1890, and I was all set to learn it by heart, to begin on my new career as a wedding singer. And this song does not grab me in the least. I sang it through a few times in the morning, and then a few times later in the afternoon, hoping that it just needed to sink it a bit. Nope. Still don't like it. I guess I'll stick with the Starbucks/Pottery Barn/Barnes & Noble back up plan.

The last couple of days I've been revisting the idea of being unable to relax. On Christmas day my husband and daughter sat and watched 'The Polar Express'. I cleaned the bathrooms. They did need to be cleaned, and I cleaned them in a very relaxed way, and I didn't mind, but I was unable to sit still all the same. Someone pointed out that maybe relaxing was not the thing for me, maybe I needed to keep moving in some way. And there is a great satifaction for me in movement, in accomplishing things, going from task to task. When the pace is not frantic but energerized, when the flow of activity is effortless, it's fabulous.

But lately I've been experiencing a bit too much brain freeze. I find myself unable to concentrate on things, wandering from task to task, unable to focus. Suddenly depressed, unable to shake it. Or feeling as if my brain is just full, that I have no time to process everything in my head. I'm eating my lessons, but there is only partial digestion going on, partial mindfulness, partial joy and awareness. I feel all sorts of little tensions in my body, small earth tremors everywhere. Things are not moving through my consciousness freely.

I've been craving journal writing, and yoga, and dance. (And chocolate.) Writing in my journal is where I've traditionally very much emptied out my head. Yoga grounds me, gets me back in touch with my breath and center. And dance does all of these things at once.

But the trick is figuring out where to put any of these. I'm still running, still working, still actually finishing up Christmas presents, since I haven't seen my family yet, still doing housework and looking after my daughter. Ok, also still obsessively loading music onto my iPod, but I need one useful vice, right?

Having no time is really only an excuse, though. There's never time for anything, if I choose to look at things in that light. When something needs to be done, I need to just do it. The time will open for it, just as the time in my life will fill like a vacuum with all sorts of tasks and necessary things if I let that happen. Making the time to do something vaguely new or importantly risky or shamefully needful can feel like molding slime: it's a slippery task. I just need to close my eyes and push away, this slime responds to my will as if a wall is creating the necessary boundary, but it will slip through the cracks if I let my focus slip. I don't mind a little goo on the floor, mind you, as long as I have the space I need.

Metaphors are so mixed today, but there's certainly a joy in that. Because here's another thought I've had: the way to solve this, or part of the solution, is to let out the wacky side of me. Blow off my steam, polka my truth, bleat and howl and chortle my way to bliss. Yeah, baby. Oh yeah. I am the love muppet of joy.

03 January 2006

"Yankee Doodle Dandy"

A classic, absolutely. Incredibly dated in feel, though not really in sentiment. Somehow Americans are still patriotic in this day and age, no matter what our politics. Another fun one to sing with my daughter, as well.

My husband is British, and has been a legal alien in this country since he was thirteen, but does not yet have his citizenship. He has his green card, disappointingly not actually green, thinks of himself as American, for the most part, certainly appears to be American to any casual observer, and has always planned to become a citizen. When he printed out the application forms last year it was quite a revelation. There are so many questions, some that seem very dated and inadequate, some that just feel invasive. I will even need to file information about my previous marriage, one supposes just so that it's clear that I am not a serial alien marry-er. My husband is more concerned that he would pay the $350 application fee, and then be rejected because he worked for Greenpeace at one point.

Our daughter is fascinated by the fact that she's half British, and she knows now that she could claim UK citizenship if she wished at some point. It's not quite as cool as being bi-lingual, but it could be a contender.

I'm very happy to be American, but also acutely aware that my great-grandparents all came to this country as immigrants. My grandparents were mostly bi-lingual themselves, in a time when it wasn't as cool, I imagine. I treasure that part of my heritage, and can't imagine what it would have been to travel across the ocean as a young person to live forevermore, away from family and the land of my youth.

02 January 2006


Not any version of 'Memories' that you know, I'm guessing. A period waltz, sweet, not unique. But it was very fun to have my daughter sing along with me today while I worked on this, and then to hear her later playing and singing other songs from her piano lessons. Life is indeed good.

Last night and this morning I was feeling pretty down, and there certainly wasn't sufficient reason for it, as far as I could figure. But it's always really hard to go to bed depressed, it haunts my dreams with blah. I also had to work today, as I had to work yesterday, and the day before. Admittedly, not much work, but enough that I felt that I didn't get the real holiday weekend that everyone else was getting. And today I was working on a new client, someone who had won a gift certificate that I had donated. I found out that this person was already getting massage regularly, and lived a bit far out for convenience. I thought that I was unlikely to 'win' him as a regular client, but we were doing a Thai massage, which he had never had, and I knew that it would be a good thing, at the very least, to introduce him to this form of massage that I am so very fond of.

I did good work. It was another occassion where the client's body and flexibility and needs meant that I needed to adapt what I did more dramatically than the norm, and it worked. I have realized that I do my best work when people ask me for something very specific, and just far enough outside of what I normally do: within my capabilities, but short of prima-donna demands. Today, this fit.

More than all this, though, was coming home and realizing that I wasn't feeling down any more. In fact, I was feeling great: centered, energetic, attractive. Attractive? Yes--but why? This client didn't speak during his massage, we didn't connect in any super personal verbal sense, it was merely a friendly, normal interaction. As I pondered the glory of feeling cute and trim again, the obvious answer came to me: of course this works for me. As centered in my body as I am, as defined by my body and its abilities as I am, when I have the opportunity to move and stretch, to be strong and effective, to do good with these limbs and hands, yes, it makes my whole self pretty darn happy. Yahoo, me! I am a perfect fit for my chosen career, and that's not a small thing.

01 January 2006

"Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet"

This must not be as bad as it sounds, since she's putting on her old grey bonnet to go get married. It still doesn't sound very festive, though. And it's very short, but I think that's because it's the Reader's Digest version. Somewhere, surely, there are more verses, perhaps involving a faded dress and pair of gloves with holes.

I love hand-me-overs. When I was a kid I was not only the oldest in my family, but the oldest grandchild on either side of the family, and I didn't get any hand-me-downs from family. Later when my male cousins got a little older, I got a few shirts and such, deeply satisfying for the tomboy I was then. But it wasn't until high school and college that I experienced the joys of borrowing, or being given outright, clothes from girlfriends. What a wonderful world it is.

While new clothes are wonderful, clothes that are already broken in can be better. And it's nice to be able to replace a button, or do some other minor mending on a pair of pants or a sweater, and suddenly something that was looking old and unwearable becomes my favorite new article of clothing. I'm also a big fan of yard sales and thrift stores, though it's extra special to get clothes from people I know. I have one friend who has closets full of clothes, some she's received from her sister as hand-me-overs. A couple times a year she'll pull together a bag of stuff that I'll try on at her place, it's like a mini-fashion show. We wear the same size shoes, too, an extra bonus. And I'll find myself taking all sorts of stuff: anything black, for starters, and things that suit me, but also there'll usually be something just a bit outside of my usual range that I'll grab. And often it's that new thing, that different item, that becomes my new favorite, my new look. Somehow the shirt that I'd never try on new becomes the just right thing as a hand-me-over.

As an added present: when I wear clothes I've gotten from friends I think of them. Even years later I'll put on a sweater and think: Jessica. Laura. Erica. Jamie. Kellee. And it's that little bit of extra love I carry around. Bonuses galore, indeed. Got an extra bonnet that I can have? And think of you?

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