Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Value in the Past

As we sing "Auld Lang Syne" and say farewell to another year, I think of the value of memories and how mysterious the act of remembering can be.  Some memories appear as if they will stay with me forever, while others just float on by, not being stored in any particular place for me to easily retrieve them.  I seem to collect an odd assortment of memories in my head, sometimes for occasions that don't seem very remarkable on the surface, so I have made it a growing practice over the past few years to pay very close attention to as much as I can each day, carving special places for my life's moments so that I can replay them whenever I need a lift or a reminder of my blessings.  For instance, over the past year, I remember vividly the evening that Larry and I sat outside of the Chateau at Devil's Lake State Park, listening to big band music as we gazed up at the stars on a clear night.  I hear the sound of joyful voices resonating throughout our church's sanctuary as they sang a cappella hymns at a friend's funeral.  I think of the cheery call of the first red-winged black birds of the year.  I see the card my husband gave me to celebrate the publication of my e-book and the start of my new job, two things that happened within the same week. I recall the scent of the first lilacs blooming outside of our kitchen window last May and the taste of the season's first apple in September.  I hear the laughter of good friends around the table as we shared potluck supper.  There is indeed value in the past.  On this last day of 2013, I reflect on the many special moments of the past year, even those moments that weren't especially easy or joyful, while also anticipating the good that will happen in the new year to come.  May you have a happy, healthy new year.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Up, Down

Winter is full of surprises.  Just when I thought I might be getting used to sub-zero lows and inches of snow, we experienced an unexpected rise in temperatures over the weekend, only to be plunged once again into a deep freeze as the new week began.  Such are winter's whims.  It's a strange thing, but I'll welcome, practically beg for such a warm-up a month from now when January feels interminable.  But, between the holidays, I just wasn't in the mood for 40-degree weather and melting snow.  I somehow think that the holidays are meant for Currier & Ives scenes of light snowfall, air so brisk that you can see the puffs of your breath, and enough of a chill to welcome curling up with a cup of tea and a good book while snuggled under a favorite afghan.  I think of those days between the holidays as naturally "cozy" days.  When it's 40 degrees, I just want to be outside, watching the buds on the lilac and azalea, anticipating spring to arrive any moment. Now that we're back in the big chill of December, I'm back to thinking cozy thoughts while keeping one eye on the stack of books next to my favorite reading chair, settling in for a long winter's night. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

This morning, we held our traditional after-Christmas hymn sing during our worship service.  Our service was filled with familiar hymns, sung with a combination of reverence and jubilation. We preceded our singing with the responsive reading of John Wesley's "Directions for Singing" found in the beginning of our Methodist hymnal.  We read aloud John Wesley's words, admonishing us to "sing lustily and with good courage," while also being sure to sing "modestly" and "spiritually." One of the hymns we sang was "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty," a piece whose melody dated back to 1665 and lyrics to 1680.  As we sang, my mind went back 40+ years when I sang in our church's junior choir.  Our director, Beverly Westerman, had a way of channeling our youthful energy to make lovely music together.  Ours was a large choir, so large in fact, that I often was relegated to sitting on a folding chair outside of the wood confines of our choir loft.  It was in that choir that I first remember singing "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" and at Christmastime, "Do You Hear What I Hear?".  Today, while flooded with happy memories, I contemplated the lyrics and how they apply to my life today, "Ponder anew what the Almighty can do....join me in glad adoration."  I dare say that John Wesley would have approved.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Skirting the Issue

While browsing a local antique store, I spied a Christmas tree skirt made of felt and sequins, similar to the tree skirts from my childhood.  It was well preserved and bright, despite the decades that had obviously passed since it had been made.  Someone with whom I work told me recently that she was going to wear a Christmas tree skirt around her shoulders to an "ugly sweater" party.  That got me to thinking about the year that I wore a Christmas tree skirt -- as a skirt.  I was in a high school  girls' club called Thalia.  One of our annual activities was to entertain area elementary school children at Christmastime.  My role one particular year was to help lead the children in the singing of Christmas songs.  We all dressed in costume. I dressed as an elf.  As I created my costume I pondered, what better skirt for one of Santa's elves to wear than a Christmas tree skirt?  Mom had made it of Christmas-green felt, edged by holly leaves and berries of lighter green and red felt.  The skirt was bright and cheery, surely something a female elf would wear. Standing in front of that felt and sequined tree skirt in the antique store recently, I was suddenly swept away to the past, remembering where we stood in one of the schools' gymnasiums, surrounded by little children sitting cross-legged on the floor, singing away to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."  Isn't the memory an amazing and blessed thing? Just the act of admiring a vintage Christmas tree skirt brought back the vivid thoughts of a happy time from long ago.  If the skirt is still there the next time I visit that antique store, I just may have to try it on for old time's sake.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Mitch Miller and Me

As a little girl, my family watched "Sing Along with Mitch" on our black and white television. Wearing his characteristic goatee, Mitch Miller entered our homes with his orchestra and invited us to sing along with his music by following the lyrics that ran across the bottom of the TV screen.  From a small child on, I have loved to sing and Mitch Miller helped inspire that love.  Although not much of one to watch television, for the past several weeks, I've often had our TV tuned to the cable channel that played Christmas music around the clock.  Mitch Miller has been one of the recording artists and conductors featured in the rotation of holiday music.  And, living up to his 1960s television show, I've sung along with Mitch every time. Christmas music is now just about over for another year, but until the channel stops playing holiday favorites, I'll keep singing along with Mitch and Perry Como and Andy Williams and Robert Goulet and Eydie Gorme and Rosemary Clooney and....

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Visit From Jack Frost

There was magic on the first day of winter last Saturday.  As I awoke and looked out the window, I was greeted with a fairy tale scene of hoarfrost coating every tree and shrub. Jack Frost had arrived. There before me was a dazzling sketch in charcoal, white, gray and silver.  My day's activities took me out into the countryside to the home of a good friend who had invited me to see the ice castle creation she had built on the deck.  Kitty's creativity seems to know no bounds.  She had emailed me throughout the week, recounting her experiments to construct such an ice sculpture.  The castle, complete with turrets, rounded windows and two drawbridges, was a magnificent crystal diorama made even more beautiful by the white lights that back-lit the structure.  Against the hoarfrost, it was as if the castle was from a fantasy world.  I didn't want to pull myself away from the beauty of that castle and the scene surrounding it, but other activities were on the schedule. After caroling, shopping, saying farewell to a friend who had recently passed, visiting other friends at our local nursing home and attending a party, Larry and I ended the magical day with a winter solstice event at Devil's Lake State Park. Truly, I could think of nowhere else I wanted to be on that longest night, celebrating the start of winter and the incremental return of daylight.  We joined new-found friends around the campfire, sharing stories and roasting marshmallows.  There were no stars overhead, as a snowstorm was coming our way.  The sky was thick and had a pink hue to it.  Whatever storm pattern was moving toward us was going to be big.  The sky told us so. And so the snow came, white and silent, reminding us that winter had indeed arrived, filled with hoarfrost, pink skies and an ice castle that made it all enchanting. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Angels All Around Us

The most interesting angels are those without wings and halos.  They're not always easy to identify, but they are there, all around us every day.  They are the good folks who tirelessly devote their energies to doing good for others, whether it's linked to the Christmas season or not.  They are the ones who are ever looking for ways to serve.  They don't carry harps or wear long, white flowing gowns, but they are angels all the same. Over the past couple of days, I have had the pleasure of witnessing such angels in action as they organized, prepared and served a free Christmas dinner to the community.  With the merriment of Santa's elves, these angels gave up time with family to cook turkeys and hams, peel and cook pounds of potatoes, chop vegetables, donate salads and desserts, set tables, provide music and offer words of Christmas cheer to all who entered our church to share the Christmas feast.  I saw time and time again demonstrations of love. Larry and I were richly blessed to play supporting roles to the work of these selfless individuals.  I can think of no greater Christmas gift.  Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Perfect Light

The alarm went off at 6:00 a.m. and I inwardly groaned that I had set it for such an early time on Christmas Eve, of all days.  Then, I started to think of all of the joyful things I would be doing today and I more eagerly crawled out of bed.  By that time, Larry was standing at the south-facing bedroom window, staring out into the darkness.  He called to me to join him.  There before us in the inky, early-morning sky was a most spectacular display.  Everywhere to the east and south were bright vertical bands of light shining down from the heavens, some narrow, some wide, some bright, some faint.  We had never seen any such thing, so we stood speechless at the window.  We finally tore ourselves away from the scene to start our morning routine, with me making the bed and Larry braving the temperature to get the newspaper in its box at the end of the driveway. No sooner did he walk outside than Larry was back at the door, beckoning me to join him outside.  I hustled to get on my long down-filled coat, hat, gloves and boots, a feat unto itself during the middle of the day, but somehow more onerous in the early morning.  But, the hustle and hassle were worth it.  As we stood in the driveway, we gasped as the bands of light surrounded us in all directions. Overhead was a half-moon and dozens of bright stars.  Some of the bands ran vertically from sky to earth, while others hung mysteriously as if they were suspended.  Some of the nearby bands sparkled with snow crystals.  The thermometer registered six degrees below zero, but we weren't affected by the cold.  We were silent, content while surrounded by perfect light.  There must be some long scientific name for such a phenomenon, but I prefer to think of it simply as a Christmas gift. Within a half-hour, the sun was starting to creep into the distant sky and our light display was mysteriously gone.  What better morning to see such a sight, I thought, than the day that would lead to Christmas Eve?  Indeed, all was calm, all was bright.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Hark!

On Christmas Eve, my good friend Charlene and I are scheduled to sing an a cappella duet at church, called "Hark, Now, O Shepherds," an old Czechoslovakian carol.  I am of Bohemian descent, so the choice of our music felt just right to me.  A couple of weeks ago, Larry and I attended a concert of Christmas music presented by the Madison Brass Band.  They called their concert "Hark."  The word "hark" keeps coming into my sights of late, whether singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," holding the Madison Brass Band's concert program in my hand or sharing in an a cappella duet with Charlene.  I sense that there is a message in all of it for me.  According to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, "hark" means "to pay close attention" and "to listen."  Each day, I wrestle with the messages constantly bombarding my mind, the gotta-dos and the wish-I-hads, but a quiet mind during these last couple of days before Christmas is of increasing importance to me.  Hark! It's time for me to pay close attention and listen.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Time of Waitin'

Our church choir sang a song today about Advent, about the how the "whole wide world is waitin'."  Our pastor made a statement a couple of weeks ago during her message that spoke to me loudly.  She said that Advent is a time to wait because change is coming.  She further said that you need to keep your face to the sun and your feet forward in anticipation of that change that is to come.  How often I find myself impatient, not overly willing to wait because I want to have something happen right now.  But Advent teaches us otherwise.  There is a place of importance for waiting in our lives, for living in the present moment, ever grateful, but knowing with confidence that change is coming in its own due time.  There is a grace to waiting, a trusting that all will be well if we only let it be.  So, today, I will let go of the insistence that I know or try to control the outcome.  Instead, I'll be waitin' and it'll be OK.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Beacon in Darkness

Tonight is the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice.  Until the days tick by and more daylight comes our way, I reflect on what the Winter Solstice means to me.  I take the darkness personally tonight. Several months ago, children at church sang "This Little Light of Mine.”  Their sweet voices and cheery faces encouraged all present to let our lights shine.  Through the unfiltered enthusiasm of those tiny ones, I was reminded of the big message that we are each given gifts and talents that are uniquely our own.  It is a blessing -- and indeed a privilege -- to contribute those talents and gifts to the greater good, regardless of how small or insignificant we may believe them to be.  In real and felt darkness, how might we add more light to the lives of others? What talents might we have that could make a difference for someone else?  How might we be lights in the world?  Perhaps it’s checking on a neighbor, calling a friend who is alone, offering words of support to a family member, writing a note to someone or volunteering for an organization or cause.  Such gifts don’t have to cost money.  Sharing your gifts and talents has a value all of its own. Even when all is dark (and perhaps especially so), it's important to let our own lights shine.  The light that we may think is but a tiny flicker may be the illumination that will serve as a beacon for another.  

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Star in the East

Since Daylight Savings Time ended, I have been leaving work in the dark.  The expansive, clear night sky is lovely as I walk to my car.  Each evening, I watch for the position and phase of the moon and then my eyes rest on a lone, bright star in the eastern sky.  When my husband Larry McCoy and I visited a planetarium-theme IMAX presentation a couple of years ago, I thought I learned that the bright star I see in the eastern sky is the planet Saturn, but then, a friend who's an amateur astronomer said that it couldn't possibly be.  Whatever that faraway, bright star is, it guides me at the end of my workday, helping me to slow my pace by revealing its beauty against the ebony sky.  As Christmas approaches, it makes me think of the lyrics to Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow: "There's a star in the east on Christmas morn...."  As the holidays approach, I also think of my late parents, Chuck and Barb Naidl, who used to blissfully spend hours outside in lawn chairs, enjoying the nuances of the summer night sky.  As a teenager, I was too busy being a teen to spend time joining them in their star-gazing pursuits.  But now that I'm older, I, too, am captivated by those same celestial nuances.  How blessed I am to have had parents who taught me gently, by example, to appreciate the beauty and mystery of the night sky.  And how blessed we all are to have that eastern star call us to rise up and follow during this season of expectancy and wonder.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Season of Hope

My friend Mary Carol is a wise woman.  In one of her beautifully thought-out letters to me, she wrote about the popular Johnny Mercer song from the 1940s, Accentuate the Positive.  She reminded me to keep going, to accentuate the positive, to remain hopeful and optimistic.  Her words helped me to carry on, even when it was hard to do. It's not always easy to be hopeful or optimistic, especially when life dishes out painful, difficult moments.  It seems as if those times are magnified even more during the Christmas season when all is supposed to be merry.  I have several friends who are currently experiencing illness, caring for loved ones who are ill, suffering from the loss of a spouse or parent, or having unwelcome changes in their work lives. That's perhaps when this season is even more important, for Christmastime is the season of hope. As we approach the Winter Solstice, that longest night, I think of those I care about who are experiencing their very own personal longest nights and I pray that they will find something for which to be positive and that they will feel hope. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Softly, Softly

One may think that all I do is stand at the window, looking out.  And perhaps I do.  But the recent snowfalls have rendered me speechless and made me want to be nowhere but at the window, looking out.  On more than one occasion lately, I've watched the snow fall, during the day, in the evening.  When there's no threat of wind, ice or storm, the act of watching the snow fall gently to the ground can be one of tranquility and centering.  There's a meditative feeling to simply letting go of one's thoughts and watching the snow fall quietly to the ground.  During the day, the snow falls from a sky that is the color of steel.  At night, the white blanket below reflects the falling snow, making the sky bright.  When burdens feel heavy and thoughts feel deep, all I need to do is stand at the window, looking out, and all seems right with my world.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Doesn't Cost a Lot of Doh

While shopping recently, I noticed a display of Play-Doh® and saw that it was still a very reasonably priced toy.  I used to love playing with the brightly colored dough when I was a child, making little people and other creations. Just taking in the scent of the dough would get me excited about my project. Rolling, pressing and fabricating little sculptures and models out of Play-Doh® was a marvelous, quiet way to while away Sunday afternoons. I could let my imagination soar as I made my creations.  Just a few days after seeing the store display, I coincidentally read that Play-Doh® was originally marketed in the 1950s as a compound for removing or cleaning wallpaper, not as a modeling clay. Whatever its original intent, this child remembers many hours of enjoyment playing with Play-Doh®. I'm heartened to know that today's children are still captivated by it as they roll, press and fabricate modeling clay creations fresh from their imaginations.

Monday, December 16, 2013

In Tune

My friend Lorraine was a marvelous musician.  A skilled pianist and organist, Lorraine could make the keys sing whenever she played.  Lorraine passed away last week and her service of remembrance was last weekend. I had the honor of leading a cappella singing of two hymns during Lorraine's service.  In preparation, I stopped at our church early last Friday morning, dashed into the sanctuary and selected a hymnal from an area of the church where I didn't think it would be missed for a few days.  Out of force of habit, I opened the hymnal to see who had sponsored it.  I gasped as I read that it was the one my late mom had purchased in honor of her parents some 20 years ago or more.  I closed the hymnal, hugged it close to my body and left the church both teary-eyed and smiling.  Mom thought so highly of Lorraine.  Like me, Mom appreciated Lorraine's music and, even more, her beautiful, peaceful and wise countenance. For many years and especially since my mom's passing, I have noticed that I am more in tune with subtle and sometimes inexplicable signs that make me feel as if my mom and dad are very close to me.  I felt it again as I opened my hymnal on Saturday to lead the congregation in singing Lorraine's favorite hymns.  Truly, the moment was "Amazing Grace."

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Dash of Plaid

I so love plaid.  When Christmas comes around, I seem to like it even more.  Perhaps it all stems from the matching red plaid "mother and daughter" jumpers that Mom sewed for the two of us many years ago to wear at Christmastime with white blouses featuring bows that flopped when tied at the neck. A couple of nights ago, I was at my favorite thrift store seeking something specific when, all of a sudden, I found myself standing in front of a winter scarf display, staring at a striking red, cream and black plaid scarf.  It was soft, not too thick, just the right length and only $1.00.  Everything about it told me to buy it.  I don't wear many decorative scarves, as I'm rather on the short side and my neck easily feels overpowered by the folds of a scarf around my neck. Yet, this one was perfect.  Today, I wore my new scarf, just a dash of plaid to perk up my otherwise monochromatic outfit.  Little did I realize how one dollar would bring me such joy.  I believe I'll be wearing a dash of plaid often this Christmas season, thinking back to my mom, matching jumpers, and blouses with bows that flopped at the neck. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Down in My Heart

I thought we were going to a Christmas concert at Oak Park Place, presented by two local musicians whose music I was excited to hear.  When we arrived, however, I took a closer look at our invitation and realized that the two musicians were indeed going to provide music, but the audience was going to sing along!  For 1 1/2 glorious hours, we sang sacred and secular Christmas music.  What made the experience especially delightful was that I was seated next to Evelyn Platt who had been the director of our church's children's choir.  I was one of her choir members nearly 50 years ago.  In between carols and songs, Evelyn and I reminisced about our children's choir of so long ago.  Fifty children dressed in short white robes with big black bows under our chins would fill the front of our church's sanctuary, singing our little hearts out because Evelyn inspired us to do our best.  We even recalled all of the lyrics to one of the songs she taught us: "I've got joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart."  We chuckled over the complexity of singing one of the song's verses, "I've got the peace that passeth understanding down in my heart."  To my six-year-old mind, that was a mouthful of lyrics and a totally unfamiliar word to have to pronounce (passeth).  As we sang "Joy to the World" at Oak Park Place that night, being with Evelyn gave me "joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart."

Friday, December 13, 2013

Remarkable Modern Machine

While watching an old episode of "Columbo" on TV the other night, Larry and I got a kick out of the importance of an electric typewriter in the solution of the murder mystery. The police sergeant helping Lieutenant Columbo waxed eloquently and effusively about a "remarkable, modern machine," a "beautiful" piece of technology that had revolutionized how business was being done:  the electric typewriter.  The sergeant quickly typed a sentence, explaining how the moving typewriter carriage had been replaced by a ball imprinted with the letters of the alphabet that revolved and the messy experience of replacing the typewriter's ribbon had been made easy by a disposable cartridge filled with plastic ribbon.  I learned how to type on a manual typewriter in high school. There were a few electric typewriters in the room, as well, but we all had to take turns using the more modern machines.  In my early public relations days, I used an electric typewriter with the very same "modern" features that the TV police sergeant bragged about.  Now, as I type on my laptop, no font ball or plastic ribbon cartridge in sight, it's hard to believe how technology has changed in my lifetime and career.  There was something almost endearing about that episode of "Columbo," when high-tech meant that you no longer had to have ribbon ink all over your fingers.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Light, Bright

The child in me is thrilled to see holiday outdoor light displays.  There is one particularly charming light display in the neighborhood near our home.  The cottage-style house and yard are decorated brightly, tastefully and joyfully.  The stores in our downtown are also boasting beautiful displays of lights, evergreens, ornaments and more.  They're attractive whether in daylight or in the glow of the evening. Even our condo is taking on holiday cheer these days with a combination of lights, antique ornaments, natural elements and the beloved red felt cardinals that my late mom made.  At this time of year, I dedicate some of my "time to be" to taking the slow, longer route home so I can be mesmerized by holiday displays.  Whether it's been a year of sadness and sorrow or one of joy and jubilation or somewhere in between, I find solace, peace and happiness in the light, the bright that shines in the darkness this month.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Time To Walk

I had the luxury of a four-day weekend recently. It seemed as if we always had something going on during those four days.  Despite the hectic schedule, however, I made precious time each day for a long walk.  On Thanksgiving morning, my walk took me into a snow globe.  The fluffy snowflakes twirled and fluttered all around me, melting upon impact.  I just kept walking and walking, for the snow globe was enchanting and I didn't want to leave it.  The next day, Larry and I found ourselves at our beloved Devil's Lake, breathing in the fresh air, joined only by the ducks on the open water.  The park was tranquil, awash in its quiet winter wardrobe of taupe, tan and gray. The following day, I walked to our vibrant downtown, happy to be caught up in all that is dressed in holiday style.  Then by contrast, once again, Larry and I walked at Devil's Lake. All was quiet there, except for the tall grasses whispering in the breeze.  No matter where I walked during those four days, I gave myself the gift of time to exercise, time to think, time to be. What greater gift could I give myself?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Overwhelmingly Blue

There's an exercise going around on the Internet, inviting you to respond to a series of questions in order to find out your "true color aura."  Always curious about such things, I completed the questionnaire in a few minutes and up popped the message that my aura was blue.  While some of the characteristics of blue-aura folks were a bit of a stretch for me, I was stunned to see many aspects of myself in what I read.  Here are some examples:  People with a predominantly blue aura "need to be liked and accepted....seek to create conflict-free surroundings....sometimes find yourself in the role of being a caretaker....take your responsibilities seriously....have a deep need for peace and harmony in your everyday life....are overwhelmed by untidiness....are honest, trustworthy and sincere....have a thirst for knowledge in order to gain wisdom....can be cautious and worry about every little thing." I seem to have a bit of pink, green and white auras, as well, but am still overwhelmingly blue.  What does it all mean?  Probably nothing, but it was fun to learn that when I'm "emotional, affected, sensitive, peaceful, tranquil, connected, spiritual, experimental and deep," I'm really just blue.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Snow Globe

There are those times when I want time to stand still just long enough so I can soak up all of the details.  I had one of those times yesterday afternoon.  Larry and I had attended a Madison Brass Band Christmas concert at the Al. Ringling Theatre and were heading back to our car when I simply wanted time to stop, just for a little while.  As we walked hand in hand, the snow fell lightly, making the landscape a pristine white.  The storefronts in our lovely downtown were decorated for the holidays with bright Christmas lights and greenery. Christmas music played from a public address system throughout the courthouse square. All was tranquil, magical. As Gladys Taber, my mom's favorite author and one of mine, too, wrote so eloquently in The Book of Stillmeadow (Harper & Row Publishers, 1947, page 59), "And surely Christmas is a time to rededicate ourselves to the good, the true, the beautiful."  During that moment with Larry yesterday, I felt Christmas in my very being: good, true and beautiful.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Made for Dancing

It's dance season again.  That's the time of year when it's dark as I get home from work and I can no longer safely go outdoors to exercise.  Instead, I tune in to some music and I dance -- all by myself in the living room. It's actually sort of a dance-aerobic exercise hybrid, but I call it dancing regardless.  And I am a lone dancer in our household. Larry nonchalantly walks by on his way to the kitchen, glances over my way, but doesn't feel the overwhelming need to join me as I flail around to the beat. Recently, I found myself dancing to Leif Garrett's 1970s-era hit, "I Was Made for Dancing" and I decided that it was my winter exercise theme song.  I truly love to move to music, whether I'm great at it or not.  The times in my life when I've taken dance lessons have been some of my happiest.  As adults, I think we easily become inhibited by our desire to not embarrass or draw attention to ourselves, while as children, if we heard a song, it just stood to reason that we danced.  There's a song that we sing at church called "The Lord of the Dance," which contains the lyrics, "dance, then, wherever you may be."  I may not be inclined to dance wherever I am, but most evenings, you will find me gyrating around in my living room. After all, as Leif Garrett sang, I was made for dancing.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

That Warm Feeling

The temperatures are dipping to the uncomfortable range and there's snow in the forecast, but underneath my layers of sweaters, long down coat, hat, scarf and gloves, I'm feeling a deep sense of warmth.  I read the front page of The Baraboo News Republic today to see that there are numerous individuals and organizations working hard and successfully to raise funds for worthy causes.  The spirit of generosity warms me.  Last evening, we attended a sneak preview of the Sauk County Historical Society's Edwardian Christmas Open House at its Van Orden mansion.  The spirit of creativity and artistry warmed me.  We later attended a Christmas concert at the Village Booksmith featuring groups of talented local vocalists and instrumentalists.  The spirit of holiday music warmed me.   I read a blog this morning about the adventures of being a young mother of delightful, boisterous children.  The spirit of remembering what's important in our lives warms me. Today, I once again joined the Village Voices, caroling downtown, weaving in and out of shops and restaurants.  The spirit of community warmed me.  We all have trials and tribulations, deep freezes if you will, in our lives, but there are multiple reasons to have that warm feeling. During our most trying times, we may have to look under the many layers to identify our blessings, but once we do, it gets easier and easier to be in a state of perpetual thanksgiving and to feel warm, no matter the temperature outside.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Quite Bazaar

I love this time of year, when churches and other groups and organizations hold bazaars featuring one-of-a-kind handcrafted and home-baked items for sale.  I'm not a crafty sort of person, so I find the bazaar experience even more enjoyable because I get to see talents expressed that I simply do not have.  One of my favorite bazaars to attend is hosted by our local hospital's auxiliary. Beautifully hand-sewn and knitted items are sold, as well as mouth-watering baked goods.  This year, several friends and I also attended a first-time mission fair at a downtown church where not only were there locally crafted items, but items, as well, that came from the creative hands of people from around the globe.  Borders are blurred when you look carefully at the beautiful work done by artisans and artists from around the world.  Whether the items benefit a local charitable organization or one on the other side of the globe, it is a joy and privilege to support their efforts.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Butternut, Hubbard and Me

My good friend Kitty knows me so well.  She recognizes that winter squash ranks right up there as one of my favorite foods.  I could -- and have -- made an entire meal of winter squash.  No butter, no brown sugar, no garnish of any kind, just plain winter squash.  So, when she emailed me to invite me to pick up some winter squash from her, I was elated.  It wasn't until I arrived at her house, however, that I realized she had already gone through all of the effort to cook Butternut and Hubbard squash and had frozen small sealed plastic packets of the orange goodness for me, 18 bags in all.  Within a day or two, we had eaten three of the squash bags.  Try as I may to stretch out this generous gift from Kitty, I fear that I'll inhale a bag every day until it's sadly gone.  So, I have to use some restraint. A little bit of self-control on my part will make that mouthwatering gift from Kitty last longer, each spoonful a true blessing.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Suite Song

The cymbals had been clanging, the horns tooting loudly and the piano was off-key.  Such were the sounds of the clamorous thoughts going on in my head by the end of the day.  Too much sound and not enough melody.  So, it was doubly nice to spend Monday evening at UW-Baraboo/Sauk County in the audience for the UW-BSC Band Concert.  I've been in the R.G. Brown Theatre hundreds of times before and have even sung and danced my way around the stage there, but nothing could have been more welcoming, more relaxing and more enjoyable than to sit front and center in the auditorium Monday night and allow the beautiful music to waft over, around and inside me.  From "Fantasia in G Major" and "Brook Green Suite" to "Watermelon Man" and "In My Neighborhood," the Concert Band and Jazz Band reminded me just how suite, er, sweet life is.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Soup Supped, Greens Hung

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...at our church.  Last evening, we held our traditional Hanging of the Greens that began with a potluck soup supper, followed by decorating our church for the Christmas season.  Two strong men carried in the tall evergreen tree that would grace the sanctuary.  As it was gently lifted into its holder, the tree's branches began to relax.  Soon, it was standing upright and stately, ready and willing to be decorated with white lights, glass icicles, and blue and silver ornaments.  As Christmas music was played on the piano, wreaths were hung on the doors, bows and banners put into place in the sanctuary, and a children's tree decorated.  I looked around at everyone's handiwork and couldn't help but sigh a pleasant, contented sigh.  I am a lifelong member of that regal, old church.  Over my lifetime, I have attended nearly 50 Hanging of the Greens events.  The church and I have a common history that feels both comfortable and comforting.  As we ended our evening, gazing at the lovely, lit Christmas tree, children ranging from toddler to octogenarian listened to a children's story and then sang Christmas songs and hymns. The soup was supped, the greens hung and this humble church decorator grateful to have such a special place to call my church home.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cyber Monday Deal

Black Friday has made way for Cyber Monday, when online holiday shopping goes into full tilt.  With that shift in focus to online shopping, I decided to offer my recently published e-book at a special rate.  Time to Be: An Almanac of Short Essays about the Extraordinary Joy of Ordinary Moments is available on Amazon for the special rate of 99 cents through December 4.  Divided into the four seasons, the book features gentle thoughts about what it means to live in the moment with gratitude.  A recent conversation with a gentleman at a party revealed that when we walk, jog or bike outdoors, things, no matter how ordinary, come into greater focus and provide unexpected opportunities for extraordinary joy. As with my blog, my e-book is intended to make us pause and reflect upon those ordinary moments, those times in nature, those rhythms in our lives that make life beautiful. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Apple-licious

There hasn't been a week that's gone by since Labor Day weekend that I haven't made a run out to Ski-Hi Fruit Farm to buy a bag of apples.  The weather was more cooperative this year, so the supply has been abundant and the types of apples diverse.  We've tried numerous kinds of apples this year, most recently settling on Empires and Tolman Sweets.  The Empires have been large and ruby red, while the Tolman Sweets are slightly smaller and yellow in color.  There are still a few Granny Smiths in the refrig and a stray Macoun, Spartan or Honey Crisp in the wood bowl on the kitchen counter.  I can't imagine autumn without Ski-Hi Fruit Farm.  I grew up on Highway 12, just a stone's throw northwest of Ski-Hi, so going there is like going home for me.  I head out of town on Highway 123, taking the little fork onto one of my favorite roads (it's best to play classical music while on this stretch because they just seem to go together).  Then, at the corner near where Harold and Ruth Martin used to have their farm, you take a right and ascend the hill to Ski-Hi.  And sky-high it is.  From there, one gets a breathtaking view of the Baraboo Bluffs and a side view of the orchard and its apple-laden trees.  Some of my late mother's ashes were spread near there, so being at Ski-Hi also feels as if I'm near Mom.  Although Ski-Hi closes today till apple season next year, I will carry with me the happy memories of my weekly visits, the rich aroma of every apple I bought and the delicious crunchy taste of every apple I munched.  Those memories add to the tapestry of reasons why I'm grateful to live right where we do.