"" Writer's Wanderings: December 2009

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Books for the Road - Stepping Into Sunlight

After several dramatic changes in her life including moving across county, a chaplain husband being deployed and having to be a single parent for a time, Penny Sullivan’s world crashes when she is the witness to a violent crime. Add to her list Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and you have a story that is challenging and deftly presented by Sharon Hinck.

In Stepping Into Sunlight Hinck introduces you to a world of characters all dealing with life and its challenges in ways that are detrimental to their mental well-being. Hinck explores real responses to faith, fears, and fellowship when a person experiences extreme life-changing events. Her characters are well-developed and her storyline keeps you reading. Very well done .

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Favorite Carol - Silent Night

There is a lovely legend that surrounds this carol sung in many churches on Christmas Eve while candles are lit to celebrate the Christ child's birth. The song originates in Austria and was originally written in German by Fr. Joseph Mohr and put to music by Franz Xaver Gruber, a music teacher.

As the story goes, Fr Mohr wanted a children's choir to sing the song he had written in 1816 at a Christmas Eve Mass in 1818, but unfortunately, the organ broke down. Fr Mohr knew how to play a guitar so he asked Gruber to compose music for the guitar. That night it was performed for the very first time by the choir accompanied by the guitar.

The legend continues that an organ repair man actually circulated the song that soon became very popular. There is no record of there ever being a children's choir, or of the organ being broken. There is, however, an original copy of the music and words written down in 1820 by Fr. Mohr and crediting Franz Gruber with the music. It is displayed in the Carolino Augusteum Museum in Salzburg.

May this carol bring you the stillness that will allow the holiness of this wonderful night to fill you with the wonder of the miracle and the gift God gave.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Little Drummer Boy

One of my favorite songs at Christmas is The Little Drummer Boy. What a delight to find out it has a Czech background too. (See King Wenceslas). I love it for its story which is all about giving what you have. The little drummer boy didn't have anything but his music to give to the baby Jesus. So he used his talent to play his drum for him.

The carol is believed to have been written by Katherine K. Davis in 1941 and based on an old Czech carol, The Carol of the Drum. It was recorded around 1957 on a DOT label by the Harry Simeone Chorale.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The 12 Days of Christmas

This is always a confusing song to sing at Christmas. It's always tough to remember if there's 8 maids milking or 9. Or was that 11 lords leaping or 12? It is important though. You see, the gifts are very symbolic:
A partridge in a pear tree: Jesus (who died on a wooden cross)
2 turtle doves: Old and New Testaments
3 french hens: faith, hope, love
4 calling birds: four gospels of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John)
5 golden rings: the Pentatuch, the books of Moses or the Torah
6 geese a laying: six days of creation
7 swans a swimming: seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
8 maids a milking: beatitudes found in Matthew
9 ladies dancing: fruits of the Holy Spirit found in Galatians
10 lords a leaping: ten commandments
11 pipers piping: the eleven faithful disciples
12 drummers drumming: the twelve points of the Apostle's Creed

If you put them all together there are 364 gifts. One for almost each day of the year! Guess this song is the "gift that keeps on giving." Sure beats the Jelly-of-the-Month Club!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Christmas Picture

Our travels have almost circumnavigated the globe. It's an amazing thought. As we have visited so many different places and I have written about our travels, I have struggled to clearly picture in words how those areas and people appeared to me. Think about the most glorious sunset you've ever seen and then try to put it into words. Once you are past the oranges, reds, purples, pinks, etc. it gets more difficult and it is impossible to capture the magnificence of the moment and the emotion it evokes.

Taking a photo or even a video of the experience does not do it justice either. There may be some beautiful pictures as a result, but it will still not equal that one stunning scene that will be embedded in the archives of your mind.

Now imagine the miracle of Christmas. In our heads, we see what others have told us. We see images others have painted--and those mostly as an impression of the words used to describe the scene. Scripture does not recall a donkey (exactly) for Mary to ride on. Nowhere does it say that there was an innkeeper but we insist on that as part of the story. The three kings were three wise men--but wait! Now we don't even know that there were three. There could have been more since the Bible doesn't really give a number. And they didn't arrive until Jesus was around two years old.

In our joy, in our desire to celebrate this great miracle, we have tried to picture what we were not there to experience. In doing so, we have created lovely pictures on cavases and in words that have come to symbolize our Christmas story. While every detail may not be exact, the truth still remains. God sent his only Son so that whoever would believe in Him could have eternal life.

In my mind, I have a picture of heaven. It's based on several places in the Bible where heaven is described. I'm sure the real thing will look nothing like what I've pictured. It will probably be much more glorious than I could ever describe. Does it diminish what God has prepared? No. It just gives me something to look forward to.

However you picture your Christmas story, a stable or a cave, a donkey or a cart, three wisemen or a dozen, may you focus on the one thing we all know to be true: God's promise fulfilled in His Son, Jesus.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Good King Wenceslas Really Was

Ever wonder about why we sing Good King Wenceslas at Christmas time? I was surprised to find the answer. King Wenceslas truly was a king--in Bohemia! Now that really piqued my interest since I have Bohemian roots (my grandfather came from Prague).

Born in the 10th century, Wenceslas was the son of Ratislav and Drahomora. His mother, Drahomora, was secretly pagan. Wenceslas was raised mostly influenced by his grandmother, Ludmila, who brought him up as a Christian. When a young teenager, his father was killed in battle and his mother became the reigning monarch. She tried to eradicate Christianity in the countryside, had Ludmila killed, and then tried to undo the teachings of Christianity instilled in Wenceslas.

The young man kept his beliefs hidden from his mother until he turned 18 and with the support of the people, deposed his mother. He then reinstated Christianity, stopped the persecution of the priests and began acts of charity toward the poor. Unfortunately his younger brother, Boleslav, who was raised with his mother's pagan beliefs, assasinated Wenceslas.

The five year reign of Wenceslas was impressive enough for him to become the patron saint of Czechoslovakia. The carol's words written by a Czech poet Vaclav Alois Svoboda were put to music by John Mason Neale in 1853. The carol is sung at Christmas time because it speaks of the Feast of Stephen (the church's first martyr) which is celebrated on December 26.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Caroling

A week from today is Christmas Eve! I know, you didn't need to be reminded. But if you are reading this, you probably have everything under control or desperately need to sit down for a few minutes and space out online. Turn on some Christmas carols, put your feet up and let your mind drift--just not too far.

Last night, we went caroling with a small group from our church. It was my kind of caroling--indoors. We visited a nursing home and wandered the halls singing the old favorites. It brought back memories of when I was a young girl and gathered a bunch of friends to go caroling in our neighborhood. We started out with the idea of surprising people and just having fun singing. What we didn't know was that people would give us money.

The unexpected income sent me running home for a jar to put it in and we continued on down the street. By the time we were done, we had collected around $25 (a big amount in those days and to our young eyes-a fortune!). As we sat and counted out the loose change and dollar bills, we wondered what to do with it. My mother suggested giving it to charity and mentioned a hospice that was run by a church not far from where we all lived. Our eyes lit up with the idea of giving to families that might not have such a good Christmas.

The next day, my mother and I took the money to the hospice and left it with the receptionist at the desk. A few days later we received a very nice thank you note from the sisters who ran the hospice. It was the first time I remember being directly involved with donating anything to charity and was a great experience in feeling that sense of giving that enriches your life when you reach out to others.

Have you ever gone caroling?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Yes, Virginia, Believe

Yes, Virginia, there is. . .a Jesus. I know. Everyone wants you to believe in Santa and that's a wonderful tradition to play out at Christmas but Christmas is made even richer in spirit and deeper in love when you remember that it all started with a little baby in the manger.

Virginia, Santa may grant wishes at Christmas time but Jesus will fill your heart the year through. And, if you search the scriptures, you will find that there are promises he will keep for you far greater than the gifts you will recieve from Santa. The warranty on those promises will not run out. They are eternal.

So, this Christmas, Virginia remember when you open those Santa gifts and enjoy the Christmas tree and the trimmings on your dinner table, it is to celebrate the birth of a Savior--the gift that truly never stops giving.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Florida Winter Wonderland

Please indulge a grandmother today. Our son, Rob, who manages the CALL FM stations in Florida made an annoucement to run on the station for the city of Clewiston and their Winter Wonderland event coming up next weekend. Caleb is only four but he did a great job with Dad's coaching (and some editing). I used the audio clip on a video I took at the Homestead festival last year. This is how they make snow in Florida. The kids love it!

Friday, December 11, 2009

NYC - Broadway!

Back in the 70s, shortly before kids (I was pregnant), Bob took me with him on a business trip to New York City. We were living in Maryland at the time so it wasn't a long trip to the Big Apple. I'm not sure it was even called by its nickname back then. Times Square, 42nd Street, and the Broadway theater district were not a desirable place to be after dark. And as for the subway, there was no way I was going down into the underbelly of NYC and ride that thing!

Well, it's forty years later and NYC has changed. A lot! Times Square and the theater district is THE place to be--even after dark and while the subway still leaves a lot to be desired, it is a much safer place than it was.

On our recent visit, we booked two shows (besides the Rockette Christmas Spectacular). The first, South Pacific, was at the Lincoln Center's Beaumont Theater. Lincoln Center is a modern elegant setting consisting of several venues. The theater was wonderful and had a large stage that suited all the trimmings that the set designer arranged on stage--including a life-sized plane. The cast was wonderful, the story classic and we enjoyed every minute of it.

Mary Poppins was our next evening out. It was staged in the New Amsterdam Theater in the theater district near Times Square. This theater has history. The minute you walk into it you realize it. It was completed in 1903 and is full of carved and painted plaster and carved wood details in the ceiling and walls of the lobby and through to the theater itself. Zigfield's Follies were here for a time from 1913-1927 and more recently, Disney debuted The Lion King in 1998. Mary Poppins was quite a production--a little different from the traveling one we saw in Cleveland but every bit as good.

And yes, those subways have changed a bit. They are still dirtier and dingier than I'd like but there are many places that have gotten a face lift. We ran across several mosaic murals like this one and lots of musicians--some very good who were adding a bit of holiday cheer to the hustle and bustle. Subway rides are $2.25 a ride but you can transfer from one line to another to get to your destination. Metro cards have replaced tokens and you will need a credit card for some of the machines--cash for others. You can choose from several different amounts to put on the card and add to it when needed. It's very simple. Allow yourself some time to enjoy the experience.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

NYC - Radio City Music Hall and the Rockettes

Besides the Christmas tree lighting in Rockefeller Center, our goal was also to see the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall this year. On our previous visit, we had seen the show and enjoyed it so much that we caught it again when it came to Cleveland. Seeing it at the RCM though is the best.
The show features the Rockettes in a dozen or so different scenes and costumes and routines the most famous of which is the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers which they've been doing since the Spectacular's inception in 1933. Each year is a little different in presentation but it always ends with a live nativity that includes camels, sheep and a donkey. I liked it a little better the first time I saw it when they did it as the very last thing you saw before leaving. This year, they did a curtain call after the nativity scene. While the entertainers certainly deserve their due--it is a grueling workout for them and done 5/6 times a day (there are two squads of Rockettes that alternate performances), I wish they would have taken their curtain call before the nativity scene.

Seeing it in the 5,600+ seat theater in NYC though is spectacular in itself. The theater is fashioned after a sunset as seen on the ocean. The stage being the center of concentric rings that are lit before/after the performance with glowing lights reminiscent of a sunset. The backs of the chairs are made to look like ripples in the water when viewed from a distance. Getting a "backstage" tour gives you a greater appreciation for the architecture and history of the place as well as an opportunity to meet and have a picture taken with a Rockette.

Unlike our first visit in the 70s when we actually got to walk behind the large movie screen that used to show premiere movies, we got to tramp up and down the steps of an area in the back of the theater. Entering the Presidential Suite, we spent a few minutes enjoying the view from 200 feet above the stage. Our guide explained that now they have the world's largest HD screen which forms the backdrop for many of the scenes for the show. My only comment was, "No, honey. NO."

A few tips if you are going: The seats way up front are not necessarily the best. While there is no bad seat, we found (from the third row) that it was difficult to take in the whole stage. And we often missed the entry of some of the performers that took place on the sides and behind us. Prepare to stand in line even with a ticket. Once one performance is cleared out, the next one is ushered in. It's quite a turn around but the place is busy. Imagine getting all 5600+ guests out, then clean up, then seat the next group every couple of hours. It's amazing.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

NYC - Surprises around every corner!

While we were in New York City we stopped in at the Today Show with our homemade sign and hopes of having family see us on TV. Although we didn't make it into one of the crowd shots, we did manage to get on their blog site when the photographer took a picture of us with our sign.

If you ever want to try this, you need to be in the Rockefeller plaza about 6 a.m. and earlier if there is a concert with a big name. Grab a coffee and roll at the coffee shop on the plaza and prepare to stand for quite a while. They usually come out at the weather and news breaks on the 1/2 hour. Try to come up with a clever way of saying something. Your sign will be checked as you enter to be sure the language is not offensive.

But this is NYC and there are always surprises to be had around the corner. When we gave up at 8:30 and decided to grab a real breakfast, we rounded the corner to head to Rockefeller Cafe and almost ran smack into Monk! Tony Shalhoub! He was just coming out of the building after his appearance on the show. Dick and Polly, Bob's twin and sister-in-law, are BIG fans. Dick asked if they could get a picture and Mr. Shalhoub was very gracious. It was worth the stand in the cold for all of us to see the look on Polly's face to see her favorite TV star.

We topped off the morning with our breakfast in the Cafe in Rockefeller Center watching the NBC employees make a promo for the season out by the ice rink. What a morning!!

Monday, December 07, 2009

A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts on FISH 95.5FM

Tomorrow coauthor Trish Berg is scheduled to be interviewed on the FISH Morning Show with Len Howser and Brooke Taylor in Cleveland. Listen live here.
Trish is lively and energetic and I'm sure will share some great ideas not only from our book but our blog as well!

Friday, December 04, 2009

NYC Today Show

Just to update the trip to the Today Show this morning. We didn't make it into any of the crowd shots that I'm aware of but we did run into the photographer who takes pics of the signs in the crowd and posts them to the MSNBC blog. Take a look at our "double take."

NYC Christmas WIndows

Macy's is not only known for their Thanksgiving Parade, they are also one of the large department stores in New York City that has elaborately decorated display windows for Christmas. This year one set of windows was a Miracle on 34th Street theme and a story of how Santa gets your letters. There are lots of moving parts to the windows--skaters skating, dancers dancing, reindeer flying, etc. The scenes of the movie themed windows were very detailed.

The inside of the store was festive and continued with their "believe" theme of the season. I couldn't resist having Bob drop a letter in Santa's mailbox which was set in a middle aisle right by the Godiva chocolates. Unfortunately there were no free samples.

We wandered down to Lloyds and Taylor and checked out their windows as well. They fit into an old fashioned Christmas theme. My favorite window of the bunch was the one with the large gingerbread house. Again these windows were animated and done in great detail.

Humming "City sidewalks, busy sidewalks filled with Holiday cheer. . ." we made our way to Rockefeller Center to see the tree in the daylight. It's not nearly as pretty during the day. We discovered that the large star at the top is of Swarvoski crystal. You can purchase small-scaled replicas for $45 and $75.

After lunch at the Rockefeller Center Cafe on the ice rink level with views of all the skaters, we made our way over the the Radio City Music Hall for the 2 o'clock Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes. It is an amazing program and in an amazing place that seats around 5,000 people. They fill the place five times a day around the Christmas season.

Our day finished with another walk around the Christmas tree and then dinner with our niece at Carmine's in the theater district. They have family style Italian dinners and it pays to have a group when you go there. Of course when you have someone who can take home the "doggie bags" it helps too.

On our way back to our hotel, we stopped to purchase a poster board. Tomorrow's plan is to visit the Today show with a sign that reads, "We've been seeing double for 41 years!" My sister-in-law and I should have a little fun after having married twins 41 years ago.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting

The last time we were in New York City during the holidays, it was for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Unfortunately the tree in Rockefeller Center is not lit until the Wednesday after Thanksgiving. Fortunately this year we had the opportunity to return to NYC and catch the tree lighting show and ceremony. Unfortunately it rained and even though we arrived at a little after 5 (show started at 7 and tree lighting happened at 8:56), we were part of the crowd that filled the last section of available viewing area and that was only a partial view of a large TV monitor and the upper half of the tree visible above umbrellas.

Undaunted, we waited out the four hours and the video below shows our reward. It truly is a beautiful sight and it was fun to say we were there for the switch to be turned on. Yup, we're a little crazy but so were about 100,000 other people.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

France - Village of Eze

One of the places we were most eager to see on our trip to southern France was the old medieval village of Eze which sits high on a rocky peak looking out at the Mediterranean Sea. It is situated between Nice and Monaco. We took a bus from the Nice bus station that dropped us off in Eze but the old village of Eze is actually still quite a climb up the hill.

The 12th century village is built right into the cliff area and seems to be one with the mountaintop it sits on. Tiny streets barely wide enough to get a horse and cart through wind all around in a circle at the base of what used to be a castle. Little shops are in every nook and cranny as well as some cafes and restaurants.

There are two hotels in the center of it all and I’m sure it costs a pretty penny, make that Euro, for a night’s stay. One was featured in one of Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown segments.

At the very top is a cactus garden, Le Jardins Exotiques, amid the ruins of the old castle that used to be there. Sculptures are nestled here and there among the cactus. You have to pay to go through the garden but it is the only view in town—er, village. The views were wonderful and the cactus interesting although it’s not my idea of a relaxing garden with all those prickly needles lurking around you. The sculptures were very serene though and had some interesting verse posted next to them.

The whole old village is stone and has been restored to, yes, attract tourists which I’m sure abound in the high season. We arrived early in the day and of course off-season so we were able to leisurely wander the streets stopping to catch our breath when needed. Thankfully it was all down hill on the way back.

Our last stop on our travels through France was to Monte Carlo which is actually in Monaco. We had stopped here once on a cruise and wanted to actually get to see the inside of the casino. We waited for it to open in the afternoon and walked into the central lobby area. There is a huge stained glass dome over the area and off in each direction on the other three walls were large wooden doors through which you enter the gaming areas. There is a 10 Euro cover charge/person to go in—something we would not have been able to recoup at the tables since we don’t know how to play anything. But it was fun to imagine Sean Connery or Roger Moore wandering through in search of their special James Bond martini.
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