Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The music of "The Nutcracker Prince"

We all know the classic Christmas ballet, Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker."

But did you know about the enchanting 1990 animated film "The Nutcracker Prince" loosely based on E.T.A. Hoffman's story, "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King"? It uses music from the Tchaikovsky ballet and features the vocal talents of Keifer Sutherland and Megan Follows.

"The Nutcracker Prince" 
I grew up watching this movie every holiday season, and it's still a favorite for me and my sisters.

I have always strongly identified with the protagonist, a young dreamer named Clara (Megan Follows). Her "uncle" Drosselmeyer is an inventor and magician of sorts, and he brings stories and other realms to life for Clara when he gives her a nutcracker shaped like a soldier and fills her in on the gift's history.

This clip from the movie is the prelude to one of my favorite scenes. Clara can't sleep, so she comes downstairs on Christmas Eve and dances with the nutcracker, singing him a song set to Tchaikovsky's "Waltz of the Flowers":

"Clara's Song"

If you could hear me now 
If I could only get through 
I'd open my heart, whisper my dreams 
Share all my secrets with you 

If you could see me now 
Waiting for someone to hold 
Someone so brave who's never afraid 
Someone who's strong like the knights of old 

I save this dance for you 
I hope it lasts forever 
So let one star shine through 
And make my wish come true 

If you could hear this song 
This dance would last forever 
I'd carry us along 
To a place where we belong

If you haven't seen the movie, I highly recommend it. The animation is ... well ... 1990 animation, but that aside, it's a beautiful, imaginative story with lots of color, humor and joy. 

Read more posts in the Groovy Tuesday series here.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Mariah at the holiday gathering

(Photo: Free images)

Mariah leaned against the door frame as if she'd like to melt into the wood, becoming part of it, making herself invisible to the loud group that gathered.

She made standing on the periphery an art, just as she noticed her cousins clustered close to the punch bowl and relish trays, where the crowd was thickest and conversations mingled in a blender-like buzz.

Sentence fragments floated her way during lulls:

"Out bounced her hearing aid into my cup..."

"My boss called to tell me the news..."

"When did you say your plane flies out?"

"In theory it was a great idea, but it turns out monkeys like to fling their dung..."

Mariah smiled to herself as she caught these detached story snippets, glad to be free from the responsibility of keeping a conversation going.

She glanced over the room, candlelight reflecting off the gold Christmas trimmings, and found her mind drifting back to holiday gatherings of the past, much less elaborately furnished, with fewer guests and smaller quarters.

No matter where the party or who had been invited, Mariah would stay with the group long enough to finish dessert, then the lure of a novel hidden in some fold of her coat would be too great to resist, and she'd find a quiet nook somewhere, making the excuse to her mother that she was tired, or simply slipping away when the moment was right, spending the rest of the night curled up reading in a window seat or in an empty side room.

During the drive home, her exasperated parents would lecture her about her antisocial tendencies, but Mariah always felt assured that no matter what they said, her way of enjoying a party was just fine. She'd heard the laughter and mingled conversations from her perch, away from the crowds, and felt comforted by relatives' proximity and the warmth of family love, but far enough removed from it that her imagination could stretch its legs and breathe life back into her drained body. That knowledge filled her with a peace all its own, which her social parents could never understand.

Isn't imagination its own gift, its own reward? This thought returned to Mariah now, in her young adulthood, as she stood surveying the gold-trimmed room and propping up the door frame.

She wandered over to the snack table and filled a plate with crackers and veggies, pausing to compliment a cousin on her excellently baked pie from dessert earlier in the evening.

The Nutcracker Prince takes Clara's hand. (Scene from 1990
animated film "The Nutcracker Prince")
As she said the words, Mariah's mind flew off to the Land of Sweets, where a glorious dance hall awaited, bedecked with Russian candy canes, chocolates from Spain, Arabian coffees and all the tea in China. She let her mind's eye linger over each delicacy, watching Mother Ginger dance with her many flower children, skimming through the room on the Nutcracker Prince's arm and out the doors to a coconut-frosted garden, with swans pulling purple-cushioned boats across a punch-colored lake.

Mariah sighed. "You see?" she said to herself. "Imagination wins again."

Read more posts in the Storytelling Sunday series here.

Friday, November 28, 2014

A poem of gratitude for you

(Photo: Free images)

Gratitude for You

When we say our prayers each night,
We thank God for each other, our home, our friends.
We thank Him for our furry companions,
Our vocations, our callings that intersect.

Over our families we speak a prayer for safety,
And blessing and love and gratitude,
We think of each sibling and parent
However nearby or however far away.

With humor, wit and joy we make our way
On a winding and sometimes thorny path
That is filled with reminders great and small
Of the oneness we’ve pledged to forge.

The winter creeps in and blankets our hearts,
Then the spring renews and cleanses.
The summer is a time of abundance and joy,
And the fall is a harvest of blessing.

Wherever we’re at in one of these seasons,
We’ll have a hand to hold and a heart to cherish,
A home to call our own, just yours and mine,
Because I've got you and you've got me.

Copyright © Perception 2014.

Read more posts in the Fine Art Friday series here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Celebrating a foreign side of Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole

I love Nat King Cole. As many others did, I grew up listening to his Christmas album, with favorites such as "The Christmas Story," "Adeste Fidelis," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" and "O Tannenbaum," to name a few.

But I haven't really explored past his Christmas recordings until now. There are some truly beautiful songs on the list.

Here's a smattering to keep you warm on a cold, possibly snowy late autumn day, before we head into the holidays:

"Autumn Leaves"

The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sun-burned hands I used to hold

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I'll hear old winter's song
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

And here it is in French, the language of love:

"Les feuilles d'automne"

C'est une chanson, qui nous ressemble 
Toi tu m'aimais et je t'aimais 
Nous vivions tous, les deux ensemble 
Toi que m'aimais moi qui t'aimais 
Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s'aiment 
Tout doucement sans faire de bruit 
Et la mer efface sur le sable les pas des amants désunis

And here's a melancholy yet bewitching story-song:

"Nature Boy"

There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far
Very far, over land and sea

A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day, a magic day
He passed my way, and while we spoke
Of many things, fools and kings
This he said to me

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return"

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return"

Read more posts in the Groovy Tuesday series here.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A green woodland for a gray heart

(Photo: Freeimages.com)

Proud, thick oaks, pungent pine, strong, young maples and the occasional dying birch kept close company in that wood, as unplanned and scattershot as any forest in the area, trees birthed by seed carried on the wind, soft grasses hiding the forest floor, ferns mingling with autumn olive bushes in the underbrush.

Tangled though it was, it provided her sanctuary, a place that would always be there when she needed solace.

Now, a world apart, Mariah thinks of that wood often. When she walks down city sidewalks littered with trash on her way to the bus stop, she remembers the fresh scent of the dark earth underfoot in those days, how clean, rich and fragrant it smelled compared to the streets of this dirty college town.

Mariah remembers finding inspiration in that forest, hiking to its very edge, reaching the clearing, sitting on the broken split-rail fence and looking down onto rolling hills and snug homes below. When resting in that clearing, with the wood at her back, the green valley below and the sky above, it was easy for Mariah to remember her calling. In that wood, the words would fairly come to her unbidden, the poems would spin themselves into existence in the golden air. Her only task was to remember them long enough to get back to the house and write them down.

(Photo: Freeimages.com)
Today, trudging over dirty sidewalks, alert to angry, honking horns and a cheerless office waiting ahead of her, Mariah clings to the memory of that flourishing wood.

Once, when she was 13 or so, she'd brought a friend to see the woods, and he'd told her all his ambitions while sitting next to her on that split-rail fence. He wanted to be a fighter pilot in the Air Force like his grandfather had been, but he could also see himself as a pastor or a lawyer. With so much time ahead of him, and so much confidence, she'd thought, he could probably be all of those things. She'd just wished he'd stop fixing those bright green eyes on her and keep his gaze on the horizon.

Another time, even longer ago, her parents invited some old friends from out of town, and Mariah was asked to entertain their daughter, a girl her own age, while the grown-ups played cards. They'd hiked in the woods all afternoon. Her guest intently scoured the ground for signs of animal life, taking out a copy of "Tracks, Scats and Signs" for young nature detectives and poring over each paw print and poop pile, completely engrossed.

While she loved the woods, Mariah couldn't care less about scat, so she'd slipped off to that ridge for a few minutes' solitude, to let the sights and sounds wash over her and carry her away. 

By the time she woke from her reverie, the sun was sinking and a chill had crept through the forest. The guest had given up on Mariah and gone back to the house, where four inebriated parents still sat at the card table, laughing and plunging their hands into the snack bowl every so often.

The office is buzzing today. HR and upper management have been leading executives through the plant and giving them a tour of all the corner suites. Mariah doesn't try to edge into any of the huddled, whispered conversations at the watercooler or in the break room, as co-workers speculate on a possible merger. It's all too obvious, and she doesn't care. So she goes straight to her cubicle and tackles the mountain of work waiting for her from last Friday.

A photograph taped to the corkboard behind her monitor keeps her heart light. It's a snapshot taken looking out over that green ridge bordered by trees, with the cozy rolling hills and the snug homes nestled against the earth. 

She's going back very soon.

Read more posts in the Storytelling Sunday series here.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The artful, heart-stealing treachery of snow

(Photo: Free images)

Snow. It binds us to itself with love-hate intensity. We romanticize it on greeting cards and fantasize about those first, magical flakes each winter ...

... but then we also complain when there's too much of it, when it clogs the roads and bridges and sidewalks, when it falls continuously, windswept from roofs and trees, packed against our cars and homes, multiplying toil and burying all that is living and prosperous.

Let's face it. It IS dangerous. It traps and blinds, it coats and freezes, steals loved ones away, relentless in its quest to cover the northern lands for a season or two.

I don't deny any of that. I don't deny that for me, it announces the dark season, the one that leaves me feeling trapped and blue, affected by the lack of sunlight, pulled into a melancholy not of my choosing.

But I can't ignore its beauty even as I curse its cruelty.

Here's a poem that celebrates that wondrous paradox.


By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels.

This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.

And here is its beautiful theme song, shared with me earlier this week by a blog reader: 

Read more posts in the Fine Art Friday series here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My favorite Christmas music-related memory

On Sunday, my dear husband spent a chunk of his rare weekend down time making me a CD of our favorite Beach Boys songs.

My husband made me this CD. (Photo: Perception)

I started reflecting on which songs of theirs we love, and my mind traveled back to one of our most special moments together as a couple. 

We were invited to celebrate his grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary together with the whole extended Forrest family at Bil-Mar, a beachside restaurant in Grand Haven, in December 2011. We savored each minute together in the car on the drive there, watching the sunset over Lake Michigan. At the time I snapped the photo below, the song "Little Saint Nick" was playing, right before we went inside to join the family for dinner.

Sunset in Grand Haven, December 2011. (Photo: Perception)

Little did I know that, at the time, Adam was saving up for an engagement ring, and exactly one year later, on his grandparents' 51st anniversary, we'd be getting married.

The song "Little Saint Nick" isn't by any stretch of the imagination a love song, but it will always remind me of that special memory with Adam during Christmastime 2011. 

"Little Saint Nick"

Merry Christmas Saint Nick
Christmas comes this time each year
Oooooooo oooooooo

Well, way up north where the air gets cold
There's a tale about Christmas that you've all been told
And a real famous cat all dressed up in red
And he spends the whole year workin' out on his sled

It's the little Saint Nick
Ooooo, little Saint Nick
It's the little Saint Nick
Ooooo, little Saint Nick

Just a little bobsled we call it old Saint Nick
But she'll walk a toboggan with a four speed stick
She's candy-apple red with a ski for a wheel
And when Santa hits the gas, man, just watch her peel

It's the little Saint Nick
Ooooo, little Saint Nick
It's the little Saint Nick
Ooooo, little Saint Nick

Run run reindeer
Run run reindeer
Run run reindeer
Run run reindeer

He don't miss no one

And haulin' through the snow at a frightenin' speed
With a half a dozen deer with Rudy to lead
He's gotta wear his goggles 'cause the snow really flies
And he's cruisin' every pad with a little surprise

It's the little Saint Nick
Ooooo, little Saint Nick
It's the little Saint Nick
Ooooo, little Saint Nick

Read more posts in the Groovy Tuesday series here.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

When Young Robert Downey Jr. helped me babysit

Dreaming is so much fun when you can remember your dreams in vivid detail the next morning, especially the ones that come out of nowhere. Earlier this week, I had a doozy of a dream I can still remember without having written any of it down at the time.

I dreamed it was summertime, and I was in charge of watching a large group of kids while their parents attended a church function. 

Who knows why, but the person acting as my co-chaperone was, of all people, Young Robert Downey Jr., potentially the worst candidate to act as a chaperone in the history of babysitting.

We must have been watching this crew of unruly kids somewhere in the Deep South, because it was hot, sultry, weather, and Spanish moss dangled from the limbs of mammoth trees all around the yard.

To add another terrible factor to the scenario, the estate where we were watching the kids had a large pond, so not only was I in charge of overseeing 20 kids plus Young Robert Downey Jr., but I had to make sure none of them drowned in the process.

I remember there was a swing set nearby the pond, because the kids kept climbing on the swings and jumping off them into the pond.

At some point, Young Robert Downey Jr. revealed he had a bicycle — I don't know where he'd been hiding it; maybe in the folds of that billowy white, floral shirt? — and decided to give all the kids rides around the yard and out on the gravel road in front of the estate.

Well, turns out the gravel punctured a hole in the tire of the bike, and since the bike was Young Robert Downey Jr.'s ride home, it was ultra-important for him to get the tire fixed. All the babysitting came to a screeching halt as I got into an altercation with him over whether he could fix the tire himself or not.

He insisted that all he would need to do would be to sew the punctured seam with really strong thread. I of course laughed this suggestion out of the running. 

Finally, he conceded that he knew a magical seamstress who could charm the puncture shut. She had long fingernails and green hair a la the witches from "Macbeth." 

She appeared in the yard out of nowhere and explained patiently to cocky Young Robert Downey Jr. that his stitches would never have worked to patch the tire, because there was an invasive silkworm species embedded in the tire wall, and it would disintegrate the stitches as soon as he tried to ride away. She said the only way to get rid of the silkworm was through a magical incantation that only she could perform.

Thankfully, her price was low, she soon fixed the tire, and Young Robert Downey Jr. was on his way home. 

I don't know where all the kids went. They just weren't around anymore. I was left on the estate by myself, so I climbed onto a swing wearing a white billowy sheet, and the last thing I remember is floating through the air after jumping off the swing.

Read more posts in the Storytelling Sunday series here.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The ghosts of vessels past: A collection of shipwreck art

Earlier this week, I was reading an article about a diver who found a cluster of shipwrecks off the coast of the Island of Skillagee, between Cross Village and Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. 

The reporter describes the waters as particularly hazardous in the days before advanced navigation tools, because a "pair of treacherous underwater tentacles in the form of shallow gravel shoals" stretch out from the island in otherwise deep waters, causing ships to founder.

The diver, Ross Richardson, theorizes one of the wrecks is the 150-foot brig Julia Dean, which foundered in 1855, and the other was the 226-foot-long A.D. Patchin, a wooden steamship that was lost in 1850.

I've always been eerily fascinated by shipwrecks. I don't feel that way about plane crashes or train wrecks, so I have to attribute it to the fact that it's the whole concept of the vessel's remains being hidden from view in a watery grave, waiting to be discovered for centuries. It really gets me.

I think about being a diver, coming around the bend inside a wreck, scared out of my wits by a shark hiding in the wreckage, or the sight of a long-decayed skeleton trapped in some compartment. 

I went so far as to start searching for more shipwreck images to share, because, well, they're beautiful.

Please enjoy this collection I've gathered for you from the Interwebs. 

"Unknown Shipwreck" (Photo: Jakub Sisak)

This shot is of photographer and diver Andreas Franke installing his photo
exhibit. The images are of living actors layered over scenes from a shipwreck
off the coast of Florida. He installed the images on the shipwreck itself, creating
a creepy, meta underwater photo gallery of what life might have been like
on the ship. It was called "The Vandenberg: Life Below the Surface."
(Photo: TheCoolist.com)

"Shipwreck in Mediterranean Sea," oil on canvas by A.A. Orlinski

"Shipwreck," drawing/digital art by Rodolfo Guerreiro

Photograph of the cargo vessel Plassey, shipwrecked off the coast of Inis Oirr in the 1960s.

"Inverness Wreck," photo by Athena Carey

Read more posts in the Fine Art Friday series here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How David Bazan cracked my heart open

David Bazan and the Passenger String Quartet.

On Saturday, my husband and I met up with some friends who were in town from South Bend to see a singer-songwriter perform at the Ladies Literary Club here in Grand Rapids.

I'd never heard of David Bazan, a Seattle-based indie musician, but apparently he's been performing shows in town for 16 years, throughout all the stages of his career, first as frontman for Pedro the Lion, then as his solo singer-songwriter career developed.

Bazan currently is touring with the Passenger String Quartet, a neo-classical outfit of two violins, viola and cello that have backed acts such as Suzanne Vega and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis on tour. They're now on the road with Bazan, playing songs from their new album together.

The music cracked my heart open as I sat spellbound, eyes glued to the stage. Bazan's writing deals with themes of faith, doubt and bitterness. He is honest on his website about his struggles with alcoholism and his personal faith crisis from 2006 and beyond.

What I appreciate about Bazan is his unwillingness to tidily resolve these struggles in two verses and a chorus. The open-endedness in his music is heart-wrenching but resonant for me, a person for whom faith and joy do not come easily.

It's funny to note that despite its deep melancholy, his music brought me so much comfort. I felt, "Yes! This guy gets it. I'm not alone."

As he says on his website, "It's like my guts are on display in a museum, and I'm willing to keep paying admission night after night."

Here are two of the songs that struck the deepest chords for me:

"The Fleecing"

Deep green hills whose shoulders fade
Into the gray tall wet grass
Whose flesh makes fools of grazing sheep
Whose fleecing makes a fool of me

And who shall I blame for this sweet and heavy trouble?
For every stupid struggle, I don't know
I could buy you a drink, I could tell you all about it
I could tell you why I doubt it, and why I don't believe

But I can't say it like I sing it
And I can't sing it like I think it
And I can't think it like I feel it
And I don't feel a thing, oh no, I don't feel a thing

And who shall I blame for this sweet and heavy trouble?
For every stupid struggle, I don't know
I could buy you a drink, I could tell you all about it
I could tell you why I doubt it and why I don't believe it

And why I need it and what the pharisees don't see
And we'd have more drinks, we'd speak of so many things
But I don't know you and you don't know me

"Hard to Be"

You've heard the story, you know how it goes
Once upon a garden we were lovers with no clothes
Fresh from the soil we were beautiful and true
In control of our emotions 'til we ate the poison fruit

And now it's...

Hard to be
Hard to be
Hard to be
A decent human being

Wait just a minute
You expect me to believe
that all this misbehaving grew from one enchanted tree
And helpless to fight it we should all be satisfied
With the magical explanation for why the living die

And why it’s...


Childbirth is painful toil to grow our food
Ignorance made us hungry
Information made us no good
Every burden misunderstood

I swung my tassel to the left side of my cap
Knowing after graduation there would be no going back
and no congratulations from my faithful family
some of whom are already fasting to intercede for me

Because it’s...


Buy Bazan's newest album

If you like what you hear, you can buy the David Bazan + Passenger String Quartet album on Amazon or on his website.

Read more posts in the Groovy Tuesday series here.