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"


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.


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.

"Snow-flakes"

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: 



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"


Oooooooo
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
Whoaa
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


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...

(chorus)
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...

(chorus)

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...

(chorus)


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.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Rejoicing in the gifts of life

Recently, I was reminded to take seriously that each day is a gift. I can forget that truth amid the rush of work projects and the worries of life. Because my editing 9-to-5 is so much about meeting deadlines and staying one step ahead of the mountain that threatens to swallow me, I can forget to look around and appreciate the most important treasures in life.

This post is about recovering that sense of wonder. Here are some of the things, large and small, for which I am thankful:

1. The right and privilege to vote in U.S. elections


(Photo: Perception)

This is a solemn responsibility and at the same time a great privilege, one that the women of my 238-year-old nation have only had for 94 years. It fills my heart with a sense of power and pride when I step into that booth after careful research and fill in the bubbles that represent my choices. 

On Election Day last Tuesday, I couldn't help noticing the looks of satisfaction on each of the faces in line. Here we are to vote, and here we've just voted. How simple a joy. The smiles were infectious. 

2. Poetry and songwriting


In meter and wonder, with rhythm and expression, words and music weave a tapestry that conveys our shared human experience. 

How is it that one person can pen a song that moves the hearts of thousands? When we read or hear the lines borne out of the writer's mind, we can't know fully what it was that led to the writing. But we can feel it deeply inside. We can connect. We can welcome the words and sounds into our spirits and carry them with us into the night, a great sustenance through the valley of the shadow.


3. The power of spoken prayer


(Photo: Free images)

I like to be alone, where I may speak my fears to God. I find Him at the zenith of my frustrations outside in nature, where I walk alone and talk to Him aloud. 

Speaking my thoughts moves them from the confused cage of my brain into the light of day, where I can see them for what they are. When they are said aloud, though I hear no audible response from God, they lose power over me. 

One example last week was when a project took a sharp turn just when I thought it was finished, and I lost my cool. 

I gathered my keys and coat and headed for the woods to seek solitude. I remember telling God, "What's going on here is not cool! I'm really angry that you'd let this happen! And then there's the matter of my niece born today. I was really hoping to get out of here early so I could go see her, but then all of this happened. She's not getting any younger, God!" 

After I said those words, I just burst out laughing at how I sounded. I was released from anger's grip.

Speaking of my niece ... here's my final item of gratitude:

4. A new life to love


While I was praying on my solitary walk on Friday, I realized that I already loved my newest niece, November "Emmy" Rose, born that morning at 3:30, even though I hadn't met her yet. 

Emmy sleeps in my arms. (Photo: Adam Forrest)

And when I did meet her, I couldn't get enough of those tiny features, the small hands with perfect fingernails, the head of thick, silky black hair, the little button nose and chubby cheeks, the personality waiting to be discovered. 

What will she love? Who will her friends be? Will she like to read? As her limbs grow strong, will she test their limits in sports and work and play? 

I'm thankful to God for her, and for each new breath He allows me to enjoy all of His good gifts.

Read more posts in the Storytelling Sunday series here.


Friday, November 7, 2014

The dying of the year: A poet's revelry

(Photo: Free images)

I came across this beautiful poem today that captures so eloquently how I feel about this transitional time, when autumn's colors quickly fade, the winds blow, and the earth is laid bare, waiting to be kissed by a blanket of snow.

My favorite line from the poem, perhaps, is "The gnarled thorn seems a crooked hag."

The other day, I imagined myself a painter as I beheld a cluster of trees on the horizon. I wondered how my brush could ever capture the twisted blackness of those limbs, layered in the foreground against a backdrop of more limbs, stretching ever backward through the forest, with hints of gray sky peeking through. The winds had all but ripped away the last of the curled yellow leaves.

I'm not a painter, so my brush may never craft that scene. But I'll forever celebrate the blank lined sheet with which a poet begins. The page is the canvas, the words are paint, and the poem is a finished scene.

In that spirit, may I present Madison Cawein:

"Under Arcturus"

By Madison Cawein (1865-1914)

I

"I belt the morn with ribboned mist;
With baldricked blue I gird the noon,
And dusk with purple, crimson-kissed,
White-buckled with the hunter's-moon.

"These follow me," the Season says:
"Mine is the frost-pale hand that packs
Their scrips, and speeds them on their ways,
With gypsy gold that weighs their backs."

II

A daybreak horn the Autumn blows,
As with a sun-tanned hand he parts
Wet boughs whereon the berry glows;
And at his feet the red fox starts.

The leafy leash that holds his hounds
Is loosed; and all the noonday hush
Is startled; and the hillside sounds
Behind the fox's bounding brush.

When red dusk makes the western sky
A fire-lit window through the firs,
He stoops to see the red fox die
Among the chestnut's broken burrs.

Then fanfaree and fanfaree,
His bugle sounds; the world below
Grows hushed to hear; and two or three
Soft stars dream through the afterglow.

III

Like some black host the shadows fall,
And blackness camps among the trees;
Each wildwood road, a Goblin Hall,
Grows populous with mysteries.

Night comes with brows of ragged storm,
And limbs of writhen cloud and mist;
The rain-wind hangs upon his arm
Like some wild girl who cries unkissed.

By his gaunt hands the leaves are shed
In headlong troops and nightmare herds;
And, like a witch who calls the dead,
The hill-stream whirls with foaming words.

Then all is sudden silence and
Dark fear -- like his who cannot see,
Yet hears, lost in a haunted land,
Death rattling on a gallow's-tree.

IV

The days approach again; the days
Whose mantles stream, whose sandals drag,
When in the haze by puddled ways
The gnarled thorn seems a crooked hag.

When rotting orchards reek with rain;
And woodlands crumble, leaf and log;
And in the drizzling yard again
The gourd is tagged with points of fog.

Now let me seat my soul among
The woods' dim dreams, and come in touch
With melancholy, sad of tongue
And sweet, who says so much, so much.


Read more posts in the Fine Art Friday series here.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dawes meets The Teacher

Dawes is a folk-rock band from Los Angeles, California.

The song "When My Time Comes" by folk rock band Dawes made me want to reread the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. So I did. 

Here are the parts it reminds me of:

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time. (1:9-10)
 and this:
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun. (2:10-11)
and this:
A good name is better than fine perfume,
and the day of death better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart. (7:1-2)



"When My Time Comes"


There were moments of dreams
I was offered to save.
I lived less like a workhorse,
more like a slave.
I thought that one quick moment
that was noble or brave
would be worth the most of my life.

So I pointed my fingers
and shouted few quotes I knew,
as if something that's written
should be taken as true.
But every path I had taken
and conclusion I drew
would put truth back under the knife.

And now the only piece of advice that continues to help
is anyone that's making anything new only breaks something else.

When my time comes,
Oh oh oh oh.
When my time comes,
Oh oh oh oh.

So I took what I wanted
and put it out of my reach.
I wanted to pay for my successes
with all my defeats.
And if Heaven was all
that was promised to me
why don't I pray for death?

Now it seems like the unravelling
started too soon.
Now I'm sleeping in hallways
and I'm drinking perfume,
and I'm speaking to mirrors,
and I'm howling at moons,
while the worse and the
worse that it gets.

Oh you can judge the whole world on the sparkle that you think it lacks.
Yes, you can stare into the abyss, but it's starin' right back.

When my time comes,
Oh oh oh oh.
When my time comes,
Oh oh oh oh.

Well you can judge the whole world on the sparkle that you think it lacks.
Yes, you can stare into the abyss, but it's starin' right back.

When my time comes,
Oh oh oh oh.
When my time comes,
Oh oh oh oh.

When my time comes,
Oh oh oh oh.

The Book of Ecclesiastes is a notoriously confusing bit of Old Testament literature. While there's a lot that is indisputably true — everyone dies, what has been will be again, etc. — the writer who calls himself The Teacher also doesn't offer a lot of hope — mostly cynicism.

I won't attempt to solve that mystery in this post; I'm certainly no theologian. But I will point out that it's fascinating to see themes written about in 450 B.C. still resonate with songwriters today. There truly is nothing new under the sun.

But ... I love hearing what's old restated in new ways. This song actually moved me to tears. I hope you find something of value in it, too.