Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Solmnety of Mary, Mother of God

--Not a little-known feast, exactly, but I do know some folks who seemed genuinely surprised that January 1st is a holy day of obligation...and not because it's the beginning of a new year. As Catholics, we celebrated the coming of the new year on the first Sunday of Advent, for Pete's sake. Tomorrow, January 1, 2010, we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

At any rate, we shall celebrate here with some music.

Happy New Year...may God Bless you and your family with every good thing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Resting in the Joy

I know it's been a while. Things here are crazy busy once again, and no help for it.

Last week Wednesday, the kids and I made our way through wet slushy streets to midday Mass. It's something I would rather do on a far more regular basis, but the distance means that the time involved eats up the better part of our day. It's just not practical. Rotten excuse, I know, but there it is. At any rate, we made it, and afterward we helped several other families to decorate the Narthex, the Nave and the Sanctuary for Christmas.

What a blessing! What a joyful task! There were several Nativities from which to choose, and we ended up using just two of them. The one in the Narthex is raised up, and properly housed in a rough stable. The pieces are full-color, and large. An angel hovers above the stable, suspended from the ceiling with strong wires.

The other was placed just in front of the Ambo. This was my job, and it was an incredible honor. I used wooden platforms beneath fabric to place the figures of the Holy Family and two sheep. They are surrounded by white, pink and red poinsettias, and that's it. The pieces are plain, but elegant.
(That's your humble blogger there, proclaiming the Psalm. The Holy Family is there in front of the Ambo.)

The kids made good helpers, ferrying plants from the rear of the Nave to the front, attaching festive bows to every other pew on the center aisle, and taking great joy in helping to make the church a pretty place to come and worship the Infant King on the Feast of His Nativity.

I think the most humbling thing for me was to help change the Altar linens.

When we finished our work, we left to discover driving rain and lashing wind had come to usher in the storm we were expecting. We made our way carefully home, and were blessed to have that afternoon, evening, and the following morning--Christmas Eve--to just spend time together at home. We found ourselves decorating the tree, and doing puzzles, watching Polar Express and White Christmas, and just hanging out. It was lovely.

On Thursday, our supper plan was to gather in the home of dear friends with three other families (12 adults, 26 children!), and then proceed to church for Midnight Mass. The snow and ice storm meant that we had to leave a bit earlier than anticipated, but we all made it in time.

What a gorgeous Mass! With the humongous tree lit up with white lights, a brass quartet joining the organ, the choir singing beautifully, the packed pews, the legions of servers and seminarians, the occasion was absolutely everything that Christmas should be. The Proclamation of the Birth of Christ and the Gospel were both chanted, the hymns were sung with gusto, and a Canon and two Deacons joined the clergy.
Photobucket (Those middle two servers kneeling there are the Thurifer [the taller one, on the right] and the Boat Bearer [the smaller one, on the left]. The Boat Bearer also happens to be my Pickle! There were about nine other servers and seminarians who are not shown here...and we only had a handful of our 28 seminarians with us that evening.)

It was nearly 3:00 in the morning when we finally arrived home from Mass. Santa visited the stockings and placed the modest collection of gifts beneath the tree.

Christmas Morning dawned grey and stormy, and so, though we had planned to make the trip back in to town for Mass, we decided to stay in after all. The children were thrilled with their gifts: Reepicheep with her Littlest Pet Shop edition of Monopoly, Pickle with seven Loony Tunes videos (because when Santa finds things like that at the second hand store, he shows no measure of self control!), the Frog with the entire Love Comes Softly series of movies on DVD, and the Monkey with his collection of coloring books, pencils, books about gross bugs, and little airplane. The Pudge? Well, she was happy with all of the wrapping paper. Santa is almost ashamed to say that he did, in fact, bring for the Pudge two really cool dog toys. Dog toys?! Yep, well, they are spiffy little rubber chewy ballish things with knobby ends all over, and with molars coming through, Santa knew that was just the thing for the Pudge. She loves 'em.

On Christmas Evening, I found myself absolutely unable to keep my eyes open. Odd-it's nearly 2:30 AM as I write this, but that night, I just couldn't make it. It was all of 8:30 when I said to My Darling, "I am going to bed!" I did, too. I went to bed and managed to get some great sleep that night. I also took a nice, long nap on Saturday. I got caught up on sleep that I've been missing out on for months, and the past couple of days have been wonderful.

Pickle substituted for some friends serving Mass this afternoon for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and I get to cantor on New Year's Day. The following day, our choir will travel to another cathedral to present our Lessons and Carols again, and to sing at Mass.

While January is not nearly as heavily scheduled as December was, the dates are beginning to be filled in with various activities. In the midst of it all, I hope each of you was blessed to celebrate the Birth of Our Lord with the ones you love, in the warmth of a sturdy home, with plenty of good food to eat, and the knowledge of being so richly blessed.

Do not forget that Christmas is not yet finished--we must keep in mind that the Magi have yet to arrive...Epiphany awaits!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Whaddya know 'bout that?

Gah! For Pete's sake!

Apparently, some people think I can sing.

I enjoy singing. Actually, I love singing. It's something that I've worked at for many years, learning from many teachers throughout my life. I remember things that I learned from my elementary school music teacher (named, appropriately, Mrs. Staff!), tidbits from junior high school--though I didn't as greatly enjoy being in that particular group--and the legions that I learned in high school. In high school, our teacher was (and still is) one of the best anywhere in the Midwest. She learned choral teaching and conducting under Dr. Robert Fountain, and was absolutely born to do what she does. Many of the student teachers who progressed through her classroom were also students of Dr. Fountain, and had more and more to teach those eager to learn. Many of the techniques that I still use, I learned from them. Methods of breathing, of focusing tone, of releasing phrases, of enunciation--all of the mechanics of singing--I picked up here and there.

But in all of this time, save for the required course work, I've not ever really studied singing. I wanted to; when I went to college for a whole semester (!--before I ran out of money), my major was vocal performance. One semester, however, does not make a vast amount of difference. I learned, yes, from my vocal professor, but have always been a little sad at how much more I could have learned had things worked out differently.

The choir with which I now sing is a very good choir. We focus on sacred music from various genres, always keeping in mind the liturgical applications. This year, one of the pieces selected by our director, Pat, is the aria and chorus from Messiah, "O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion." Back around October, Pat asked me if I would be willing to take a shot at the aria. Well, ok...I'm familiar with it, since I sing along with the CD in my van, and I was hearing it plenty when I was in the Messiah choir beginning in August (we performed on the 11th). So I gave it a shot.

I have a hard time performing anything solo. I love singing in a choir--to work to blend with those around me, to be amidst the harmonies and conspire to weave beautiful tapestries of music with a group of musicians is pure bliss! Ah, but to have the eyes and ears of listeners focused on my voice alone is terrifying. And with a work so well known and loved as Messiah, well, that just takes plain guts. And work. Lots and lots of work.

So to prepare, I asked the Lord what I always ask Him, chiefly to let my voice be silent and His be heard, for His glory. I do this at the beginning of every Mass when I am the cantor, and any time I have even the smallest of parts which might stand out.

I also spent plenty of time with my CD, hearing Carolyn Watkinson croon to me, and doing my best to join her.

Amazing, isn't she? And I must say, I kind of enjoy it when people surprise me and don't match their voice. When I found this video this afternoon, it was the first time I'd laid eyes on this lovely person. I somehow imagined her to be somewhat older, rather larger, with bouffant-ish red hair, and wearing something flouncy, sparkling, and overflowing with chiffon. Idn't she cute? :) Just sayin'.

At any rate, I sang the aria, because I like to do as I'm told.

It was gushed over. Which, of course, translates to "I" was gushed over. I hate that. I don't mind that people appreciate, but it was a huge relief when my dear friend Amy understood when I said that it didn't feel the greatest, and that I wasn't entirely happy with it.

It was enough, though, for another friend to let me know that he intends to broadcast it on the radio, for Pete's sake.


Huh. Whaddya know 'bout that?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

It's WHAT time?!

On the one hand, it's really nice to be in a quiet house. The lights around the Creche glow warmly, the lights around the windows shine gently, and the slow, steady breathing of my Pudge falls on my ear. She is resting peacefully on my chest, the smell of warm milk sweet on her cheeks.

On the other hand, I could totally do without insomnia. Really. I am so tired that I can't even stand it, but my mind just will not let up.

It's been a strange Advent. My heart has been trying and trying to prepare Him room, but it's been complicated somewhat by the turn of events following Pudge's measles.

People are afraid of measles. Think about it--when was the last time you were in the presence of a person with the measles? Probably doesn't happen very often. Most people in my mom's generation had measles when they were kids, and most people of my generation and younger have been vaccinated.

The thing people are afraid of is not knowing enough about this virus to keep cool when they hear that it's "out there."

So the Pudge got measles. We don't know where, and we don't really even know how or when. It could have been at the library, or the grocery store, or even in the Narthex at church. She could have gotten it because some baby slobbered on the handle of the cart at the store and then she touched the handle and then sucked on her pudgy little fingers, or because she was drooled on by a playmate who had just been vaccinated.

So what happened? She had a fever, which we controlled easily with acetaminophen and ibuprofen and tepid baths. She had a rash which lasted a few days and then faded. She had two runny diapers. She may have had a headache and sore throat--both of which would have been alleviated with the meds. She had goopy eyes and a runny nose, which, considering her age, is not so surprising--perhaps what is surprising is that this bout with measles is the second time ever in her little life that she has been sick. And oh, yes, I do count that puny little Piggy Flu as the first.

Oh--and just to get it out there, as soon as we knew that measles was what was had, we were on the phone with those we knew to be at risk, those we thought might possibly be at risk, and those we knew would pray for the Pudge. And for Pete's sake, we kept her home until we knew she was past the possibility of passing it on.

Most of the people with whom we are in contact vaccinate. Some of them don't. Whether we or they do or don't doesn't really matter in this case--Pudge, having just turned a year, was too young to have received an MMR shot, so she fell into the category of "unprotected" by default. And those who choose not to vaccinate do not do so thinking that their children will never get______(measles, mumps, chicken pox, etc......). Generally speaking, they are a very well-educated, well-informed bunch who make decisions after weighing pros and cons, and with the support of their doctors.

But I gotta tell ya, there was mass hysteria out there. Grown, thinking, mature adults absolutely freaked out about this--and mostly because they had no idea what measles is, how it progresses, how it spreads, who's at risk and who isn't, and what they should do about it--because for Pete's sake, we'd better do something!

And why, you might ask, would this affect our Advent?

Well it's like this. We discovered Pudge's measles on Thanksgiving evening. That would be November 26th. That following Sunday (the First Sunday of Advent), November 29th, she and I did not go to Mass (though I was able to go to an evening Mass, thanks be to God). That Monday, Pickle went with My Darling to the boys' club that they always go to on Monday, and someone was very upset about that. Never mind that Pickle is vaccinated and boostered. He cannot carry measles. But whoever was upset about it started The Panic. The Panic spread, the rumors began, the gossip flowed like cheap wine from a box, and the phone began ringing off the hook.

Oh wait--actually, it didn't.

On Sunday, My Darling let a couple of people know that Pudge had the measles, and I received one e-mail from a very lovely woman asking how Pudge fared, and would we like her to send a meal along with her husband and sons to give to My Darling on Monday evening? God bless her!!

The next day, our whole home school group received an e-mail stating that measles was "making the rounds"--because, you know, one child in one family equals "making the rounds." Someone heard about this and passed it on and passed it on and passed it on (because sometimes we women........well, sometimes we talk.). And someone threatened to call a doctor whom they knew who kept track of infectious diseases. And someone called someone else and said that we were using this as an excuse to drop our home school group like a hot potato because we wanted to participate in a different one. And someone called someone else and said that they heard that our daughter said to someone else's daughter that we might not be homeschooling all the way to high school anyway, so what did it matter?

Yes, really.

Everything kind of happened behind closed doors and spilled onto keyboards and screens.

Now, I love e-mail. I use it all the time and think it's groovy that I can send quick updates and notes to my Grams, and print off menus for Mass when I'm scheduled to cantor. But when something like this happens, I truly wish that all e-mail service in the 100 miles surrounding us would crash. People grew not only afraid of measles, but of the phone.

Some of the e-mails we received were near threats--"Don't show up to First Friday Mass!" Some of them were piggybacks of gossip--"We hear MamaMidwife's Lovey and Flower have measles, too--we're praying for them!" (.....except that they didn't have them....not that anyone bothered to call her to find this out.......) Some of them were directed to MamaMidwife, and were Just Plain Hurtful--"Don't come to this event because I'm terrified that you'll give measles to others there!" (.....even though she's vaccinated and cannot carry measles.....)

The fear, I tell you, was palpable.

The worst e-mail--the kindest, but the worst--was the one from our beloved Monsignor. Someone had called or e-mailed him very, very late on Saturday evening, the night before the Second Sunday of Advent. We had already made the decision that the big three were going to Mass with My Darling and the little ones would stay home with me. And at 11:00 at night, I received an e-mail letting our family know that we had all been dispensed of our obligation to attend Holy Mass, the Holy Mass celebrating Immaculate Conception, and all Masses until we were confident that the risk of exposure had passed.

Yes, really.

And what was the risk?

The risk was that because the Monkey, who has not been vaccinated, lives with his dear sister the Pudge, he might carry the measles and hand it off to some unsuspecting unvaccinated child.

Not that we could arrange to not have him at First Friday Mass. Not that we could make sure he stayed--literally--within our arms at Sunday Mass, and in the back of the church, or on the side where very few people ever sit because the lighting is horrible. Not that we were out to expose the families whom we know and love like our own families, for Pete's sake, wishing them all to suffer the wrath of the measles!

And how long was this a risk? Well gosh, I don't know. It probably still is, because here it is, December 17th, and he has yet to get the fever, the Koplik's spots, the rash, the goopy eyes, the sore throat, the headache, the diarrhea, or for pity's sake, the anything associated with measles. But, you know, it could happen at any time.

This Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, REJOICE Sunday, we went to Mass as a family, in the parish to which we belong.

Not the First Sunday of Advent. Not First Friday. Not the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Not the Second Sunday of Advent. And Heaven knows, none of the daily Masses in between.

And as a result of the fear, gossip, panic and lack of communication, we are now considering leaving the home school group with which we'd felt such a strong bond. We hadn't considered it before this whole thing erupted. But having been on the receiving end of a lot of muck being slung about, we're not sure it's really the place we want to nurture our children. (Our children, who, by the way, were witness to their mother reading e-mail after e-mail, talking with friends and those whom she thought to be friends, trying to sort out and assure that we were not trying to infect people with some deadly disease, and for Pete's sake, would they please ask us what our plans for our family are, rather than relying on what someone's daughter said that our daughter said months ago??!! Yes, REALLY!)

A lot of damage can be done when people allow fear to take hold. With the refusal to ask questions, research anything, talk with any doctor who actually deals with measles, rather than studying it from a book, so much has been accomplished on the side of evil--hurt feelings, motives questioned, friendships destroyed, faithful people alienated.....

So it's been a strange Advent.

I'm trying so to keep it all in perspective, to focus on the joy of this season. It's been mighty difficult. There's so much other crud going on that Mass has been all I've had to look forward to...and when you're told not to come to Mass, it's like a stab to the very soul, with a twist of the blade for good measure.

Thanks be to God, my Pudge is well. Thanks be to God, the Monkey is, too. Thanks be to God we can now fully focus on Advent, on preparing our hearts to welcome the Lord Jesus, the Infant King, Emmanuel, God with us.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Many choir rehearsals these weeks. Lots of sacred music. Plenty to feed the soul. One of the choirs with which I sing is preparing to offer is our annual Lessons and Carols. This is not my choir, but it is perhaps the most famous to offer a Lessons and Carols service each year--King's College, Cambridge, England. I was searching for my favorite carol of this year, and found a treasury. Please take the time to hear each of these pieces, perhaps with a cup of tea, or while placing the figures for your family's Nativity set, as we are doing this snowy morning. Savor Advent. Long for Him. Ponder the Gift.