Monday, January 22, 2007

Evening by G.K. Chesterton

Thought I'd pass along this capturing of the essence of gratitude from Gilbert Keith:


Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Random Thoughts on a Pleasant Day

Well, the snow has finally melted enough at our house for me to feel comfortable driving down off of the plateau. Like most West Coasters (not to be confused with the West Platters), I am a complete wimp when it comes to bad weather driving, and I cower behind four walls until slipping on ice is a very remote possibility, rather than an at-hand probability. So, I took advantage of the betwixt storms situation to hie myself and the Bug out to Bellevue for some mother-daughter bonding time.

Everybody come and play! Throw every last care away! Let's go to the mall today!

At the mall, Sadie and I got our customary Strawberry Julius and soft pretzel. This little ritual was one I observed with my mother, and it is a wonderful tradition with the Bug.

Then we went to Gymboree. I have a love-hate relationship with Gymboree, because every clothing line is absolutely adorable -- and a wee bit on the pricey side -- and I always spend too much when I go there. It is so easy to avoid buying myself clothes (in fact, I hate it), but Sadie looks good in everything, and it's hard not to indulge. I love dressing my little girl.

After the mall, we went to Lakeshore Learning Center, where I got Sadie a new phonics game. She's caught on that her other phonics games are really learning tools, and in her recalcitrant way has begun to refuse to play them. Even promising to get her a dog when she can read at the second grade level has failed to inspire my contrary Meck. She's been like this since birth. I remember coaxing and encouraging her to talk and feeling like a miserable failure when she celebrated her one year birthday without having said a word. Then, when I let go a bit, Sadie exploded with complete sentences and hasn't been quiet since. If I gave up on teaching her to read, she'd probably have her own library card with 100 books checked out within the year. Stinker.

Speaking of books and children, here are two recommendations: The Let's-Read-And-Find-Out-Science series by HarperCollins and Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins. Sadie's Auntie Sabina got her hooked on the former, and I got Sadie the latter for Christmas after reading a review in the Wall Street Journal. Oooh! And another great storybook is The Runaway Dinner by Allan Ahlberg. That book never fails to crack me up, and, as parents well know, finding books that appeal to you as well as your children is a great boon when you're stuck reading them over and over again.

One thought of books leads to another. I just re-read L.M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle after seeing it mentioned over at Joelle's. I just love that story. And I love, too, how Montgomery's writing really holds up. I loved her as a teenager, and I love her now. Granted, reading her brings me back to those youthful days, but I think she has more than a little to offer the more mature reader. Especially The Blue Castle -- one of the few works of Maude's that I can call to mind where the heroine is an adult when we meet her.

Libraries: All the fun of shopping for books without the reality-check moment at the end when you have to shell out money for them. Awesome! Whenever we pay our property tax, I pretend in my mind that all of it goes to public libraries, which I love (though, from a moral standpoint, I admit really ought to be private), rather than the wretched public school system, which I hate on principle. How fun it is just to cruise the aisles, pick up whatever catches my fancy, and then breeze out the doors with them all, not a penny poorer!

Dinner tonight will be BBQ Chicken Salad -- one of Jason's favorites. This was one of my New Year's Resolutions: Write out two months in advance what I will make for dinner. Because, that's really the hardest part, isn't it -- thinking at 3 or 4 PM what you ought to make for dinner at a time when you are not at all hungry? Now that I know what's on the menu for any given day, I can just go ahead and start making it; there is no need to wait for the dinner muse to come a-knocking. It has worked out fantastically so far, and it is definitely one of my favorite and most practical of New Year's Rezes I've ever made. It helps streamline grocery shopping, too.

Speaking of which, here's kind of a cool thing: Cozi Central. It's a free, on-line family organization center. It puts family members' appointments and messages into a forum that can be easily viewed by other family members via the Internet or mobile phone. You can also keep running shopping lists which can, then, also be viewed by your, say, husband before he leaves work. So far, I really like it.

One of my dearest friends, Princess Holly, is coming up to Seattle this weekend for business, but she's staying with us -- so any down-time becomes hanging-out time. It's always so fun to visit with her. She speaks four languages fluently and has traveled everywhere. Plus, she's a big reader, so there's always something new to discuss. We agree on very little politically or epistemologically, but we share a mutual respect for each other, and there are other bonds that keep our friendship strong. She and I have a standing appointment to make a pilgrimage up to Prince Edward Island and pay homage to Ms. Montgomery one of these days. Now, whether my first trip there will be with Princess Holly or with my other fellow Montgomery-fan friend, vermonster, remains to be seen. Holly is my "Emily" books friend and vm is my "Anne" books friend, and I guess you could even say that Joelle is my "Blue Castle" friend (though all three love the other works, too). Maybe we four ought to plan a simple LMM hootenany to celebrate all aspects and heroines of that enchanting wordsmith's career and life up on PEI someday.

What a lovely, pleasant day!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A New Baby!

Well, she's not mine, but I get to look after her for her mommy and daddy, and I'm pleased as punch to be able to do so. Little Rylee is only 10 weeks old, but she's the apple of mama's and daddy's eyes, as well she should be. What a pumpkin!

This will be a good dry run to see if Lady Meckbottom can handle a younger sibling. Of course, all children get used to being dethroned after a while. And yet, I cannot help but think that Tiny Tyrant will have a harder time than most. She's been Queen Bee for a long while now.

As for me, well, I'm just loving holding that precious little girl and breathing in her sweet babyness. A baby is one of the few things in this world that is an unmitigated good. Each one is a love letter from God.

2007 is looking great!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Gospel Road

Johnny Cash's labor of love, Gospel Road, is really affecting. I'm only about half way through, but, so far, three things have really stuck with me.

The Raising of Lazarus: This is not dramatized on screen, but is narrated by Johnny Cash. What is so intriguing about this is that when Cash speaks of the famous verse, "Jesus wept," he illuminates that in a way I'd never thought of before. Cash says that Jesus wept for His dead friend because He knew that in calling him back to life, He was calling him away from the Father to go through the pain of death again at some future point. This was a new angle to ponder.

June Carter Cash as Mary Magdalene: June Carter Cash's portrayal of Mary's interactions with Jesus is so heartrendingly sincere. When she weeps, she weeps as a believer -- as one who really knows what it is like to be made clean and holy by that deep, unfathomable love. I wept with her, because I, too, have known that awe and gratitude.

Jesus and the Children: The scenes with Jesus and the beautiful children set to a sweet Cash song simply captures how I always picture in my mind was His way with the little ones.

This movie is so stunningly photographed. It looks low-budget, true, but it is real. It is moving, because it is not splashy. I will admit that I have a great weakness for the explorations of Christian faith made in the 1970's. I think that the Jesus Movement alone might have postponed Judgment on the U.S. for a few more years.

I'm looking forward to watching the rest of this movie tonight.

Monday, January 08, 2007

G.K. Chesterton on Blogs and Bloggs

From the wonderful resource, The Blog of the American Chesterton Society, I found this amazingly prescient statement that rather sums up both the rise and societal necessity of blogs:

"[The blog] exists to insist on the rights of man; on possessions that are of much more political importance than the principle of one man one vote. I am in favour of one man one house, one man one field; nay I have even advanced the paradox of one man one wife. But I am almost tempted to add the more ideal fancy of one man one magazine ... to say that every citizen ought to have a weekly paper of this sort to splash about in ... this kind of scrap book to keep him quiet."

[Ward, GKC 497, quoting GKW April 4, 1925]*

Not that even the great GKC could fully fathom the explosion of the public, international journal:

". . . It is a mystic and refreshing thought that I shall never understand Bloggs."

[Ward, GKC 106, quoting an engagement letter from GKC to Frances Blogg]

Of course, as you may have guessed his "Bloggs" were not some archaic British version of the abbreviated, but at that point uninvented, weblog, but rather his future wife's family. And yet, and yet . . . shall any of us ever understand blogs?

Why do we write and publish our hearts' ponderings in such a public way? And why do so many of us open those most dear of reckonings to the scrutiny of strangers' comments? I guess it goes back to Chesterton's first quote: We want to be heard. And, I would add, it is fun to meet others who have the same quirks of thought and expression as we (though that part of blogging is contrary to Chesterton's ideal -- that's a future post, though).

As the second anniversary of Musings draws nigh, I find myself grateful to Blogger for this opportunity to share the twists and turns of my mind and the discovery that I am really not alone. To my dear blogging buddies: Blog on! Blog as though your very freedom depends upon it, because, to a certain extent, it does.

Concert Albums 2: Being a Post in Which I Take Back Almost Everything Previously Stated About Concert Albums

How lame am I? Shortly after posting an inane little item about my general dissatisfaction with in-concert albums, I remembered the first Amy Grant "live" albums from 1981. And then I remembered the video I have (VHS, of course) of Amy Grant's "Age to Age" concert from 1983. And then I realized that my theory was all shot to hell, because both of these have a freshness and spontaneity of the real thing that I found so lacking on her recent offering, Time Again . . . Live. So, maybe the problem is with the bigness of this concert recording, when I have usually seen Amy Grant in concert in much smaller, more intimate settings.

Another factor, too, might be the stage of her career in which the live albums and video were recorded. In the early 1980's, Amy Grant was still a very young gospel singer, whose music appealed to a much smaller demographic. Every song she sung was an earnest attempt to communicate the truth she had come to know. In the most recent live recording, Time Again, Amy Grant is a seasoned pop star, and many of the songs have the tired, worn-at-the-edges feel of someone just going through the motions. The highlights of the album come from her newer songs.

To top off my cluelessness, Jason and I were listening to Louis Prima and Keely Smith's Live From Las Vegas CD yesterday, and -- WOW! I'd forgotten how electric those two are together. Add Sam Butera to the mix, and you have an experience so exciting and alive, that it must be at least pretty close to the real deal. The cozy nightclub setting contributes to the great, off-the-cuff tone of the whole album.

Now, Louis Prima and Keely Smith were not trying to communicate any particular timeless truths with their music, but they were certainly having a hell of a lot of fun. There is something so elemental about hearing them together -- so fitting and right and complementary -- that really comes through on this album. Though it was recorded to be offered as an album for sale, they had sense enough to retain all the false starts and rib-poking and mild swearing that must have been an integral part of their act. Thank goodness they did, because, for someone like me who will never get to see their Las Vegas shows, I can catch the essence of what it meant to be in a smoke-filled room in Sin City in the 1950's at 2 AM, listening to Butera's wailing sax, Prima's swinging trumpet, and Smith's soaring vocals. It's pretty sweet.

So, I was wrong. Very wrong. Sometimes, sometimes artists get it very right with their in-concert albums. If they can shed any sense of self-consciousness and perfection and just go for it, the result is often stunning. I think, too, of Keith Green, whose every recording was practically "live," as he recorded his vocals with his music. No one can beat Keith Green for that immediacy of sound -- that in-your-face urgency that pours out of his songs. In fact, Keith Green in concert cuts is pretty indistinguishable from Keith Green in studio cuts. There is such a rawness in his music -- it is an awesome thing to witness.

I hope that if Carolyn Arends ever decides to record an "in concert" album that she retains the same sense of intimacy and in-the-momentness that makes her concerts such a treat. I hope she retains the jokes and the banter with Spencer and every wrongly-fingered chord that may come. That would be something to treasure for years.

Friday, January 05, 2007

My Inner-Anne

You can thank Joelle for this one:

Which L.M. Montgomery Heroine are You?
Which L.M. Montgomery Heroine are You?

Why, thank you very much!

Anne Shirley*

Stemming from a single line in a note-book: "Elderly couple apply to orphan asylum for a boy. By mistake a girl is sent to them," arose a book that put Canadian literature and Prince Edward Island on the map. Montgomery worked on writing the story for eighteen months, and experienced rejection after rejection. Anne of Green Gables was at last published by L. C. Page Company of Boston in June of 1908.

It was instantly popular, appealing to a larger audience than the young girls it was geared towards. Mark Twain wrote to Montgomery saying in Anne she had created "the dearest, and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice." A sequel was almost immediately demanded. Montgomery continued to write about Anne Shirley for the rest of her lifetime, and her career is irrevocably tied to her success with Anne.

Displaced, orphaned, alone, Anne weaves her way into he hearts of not only the fictional characters she comes across in Montgomery's plots, but also, and most importantly, the readers. Nearly one hundred years later, her worldwide appeal is untouched.

The Anne of Green Gables series is composed of eight books (the following contains spoilers, please do not read them if you haven't read the books and don't want them spoiled):

1) Anne of Green Gables - Anne finds her home with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert at Green Gables
2) Anne of Avonlea - Anne teaches at the Avonlea school
3) Anne of the Island - Anne goes to college and becomes engaged to Gilbert
4) Anne of Windy Poplars (Anne of Windy Willows) - Anne teaches and writes letters to Gilbert from Kingsport
5) Anne's House of Dreams - Anne and Gilbert move to their "house of dreams" and she becomes a mother
6) Anne of Ingleside - Anne and Gilbert's family is complete
7) Rainbow Valley - The focus shifts to Anne's children as they grow up
8) Rilla of Ingleside - Focuses on Anne's daughter Rilla Blythe during WWI

*From The L.M. Montgomery Resource Page

And here's why I fell in love with Jason -- his quiz results:

How Gilbert are You?
How Gilbert are You?

Concert Albums: Being a Post in Which Nothing Particularly Deep or Important is Said

Does anyone else have a problem with in-concert recorded albums? The premise is great: Recreate the concert experience for the listener at home by capturing the moment in digital quality. But, it never really works, does it? I think that that is because the artist always knows when the recording will take place; therefore, some of the magical spontaneity of the concert just fizzles.

Were I queen of the world, my first decree would be that no performing artist is allowed to know in advance that a recording is being made of his or her concert. I think that that alone would go to great lengths to rectify this sad situation. Second decree: Grover Cleveland carved into Mount Rushmore. (But that's another reflection for another time.)

Take Amy Grant's latest offering, Time Again . . . Live. Now, I've been to many an Amy Grant concert over the years, and she puts on a great show. Time Again is not like going to one of her concerts. It was supposed to be an intimate evening spent in some favorites from almost 30 years worth of songs. Amy brought in her own furniture from home for the concert. The stage certainly looks great, with a big old couch plunked down in the middle. But, the concert never has that intimate feeling, because, instead of keeping it small and homey and simple and unplugged, Amy Grant chose to make it into a big production. It's too big and noisy and self-conscious. I never lose myself in the moment of an unrepeatable breath of eternity, whether listening to the CD or watching the DVD. It leaves me pretty cold.

Now, I can probably safely say that no other fan has attended the sheer number of Carolyn Arends concerts that I have over the past seven years. Carolyn Arends concerts are really something special. Far more special than even the best Amy Grant concert. She is an amazing musician, and she tours with this incredible musician, Spencer Capier, and together -- though they've played the songs hundreds of times -- something spell-binding happens when they jam on stage. It is as though, as they feed off of each other's talents, they draw so much inspiration from their mutual creativity that each song is born anew.

Could this magic be captured on a recording? There have been many of Carolyn's concerts where I've thought at the end, "That was so awesome. I wish it had been recorded so I could relive it." But, on Carolyn's compilation album from 2000, Seize the Day and Other Stories, she included three live tracks. And these tracks are, well, to me at least, less than inspiring. She went in and had a concert specifically to record those tracks, and it shows.

Now, should her people ever enact a covert operation and record a concert by stealth, I think we'd be in business.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I'm Going To Need Some Coffee . . .

. . . When Sadie wakes me up in a few hours!

After having goofed around with this blog for what seems like millennia, I have updated it almost to my liking. I wish the "Coffee Time" banner weren't partially hidden by the Blogger bar, and I'd love it if there were not a black, empty margin running down the right side, but I'm tired and sore and sick of thinking in HTML.

A new look for the new year -- thanks to Caz!

I do enjoy coffee. The coffee culture, rampant bibliophilia, gorgeous scenery, and relentless rain inspired and have continued to deepen my love affair with the Seattle area. This is home, and, for a while at least, my blog looks a bit more like home.

Happy New Year! May all your espresso shots be a perfect 20 seconds. May your beans grind to the maximum extraction of flavor and never to the bitter point. May your milk steam up as frothy as you like. And may life always be for you "good to the last drop."