Archive | November 2012

Enjoying Christmas Music to the Fullest

Mim directing her family Christmas program on Christmas Eve.

I love Christmas music – listening to it, singing it, and playing it on the piano and organ. The Christmas music season for me begins the Monday after Thanksgiving (today!) and extends at least throughout the week of Epiphany (January 6), and sometimes longer.

I like playing Christmas carols from hymnals, but I also like playing fancy arrangements of carols and secular Christmas songs, too. Without counting them, I’m sure I have at least fifty books of piano arrangements of Christmas music, and at least 25 books of organ arrangements. I need a good six weeks to even play everything once.

Getting into the spirit of Christmas music, I asked Mim yesterday about her earliest memories of singing Christmas Carols. Her fondest memory is of the Christmas Eve programs she organized for her family every year when she was a child. Her grandmother and her two aunts joined Mim and her mom and dad for a lutefisk dinner on Christmas Eve. After the traditional Norwegian meal, Mim ushered everyone into the living room to begin the program.

Mim listening to her dad read the Christmas Story.

Mim handed out songbooks and selected the Christmas carols for the family to sing. They were all the traditional carols – O Come All Ye Faithful, Joy to the World, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Away in a Manger, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Silent Night, Jeg er sa glad hver julekveld (I Am So Glad Each Christmas Eve). The last one they sang in Norwegian.

After the carol sing, Mim’s dad, a Lutheran pastor, read the Christmas story from the second chapter of Luke. The program ended with opening presents. But the highlight of the evening wasn’t the presents. It was the program – the singing and reading the Christmas story. The lutefisk dinner was a close second. Really. Mim likes lutefisk!

One of my own memories of singing Christmas carols comes from my high school years. I was part of the church choir of about a dozen members. We ranged in age from 14 to 84. On Christmas morning, around 5:00, we gathered at our choir director’s house and then walked around Cambridge singing Christmas carols. We also drove to the homes of some church members who lived in the country to sing to them. Why we went caroling so early, and whether or not people enjoyed being awakened to our caroling, I don’t really know. But we had fun doing it. We ended up at our choir director’s house again for some hot chocolate and Christmas cookies.

Mim sang in the 2000 Singing Christmas Tree. She’s in the middle of the third row. Aunt Edith was the pianist in the red jacket in the front row.

That choir director was also our church organist, and my piano and organ teacher. She was very creative and started the annual tradition of the “Singing Christmas Tree” in 1965. Her husband built a Christmas tree-shaped set of risers that we assembled in the front of the church sanctuary. A chicken wire fence was mounted in front of each riser. We wired fresh evergreens to the fences. The end result was a fragrant but scratchy Christmas tree for the choir members to stand in while singing a Christmas Concert.

The “Singing Christmas Tree” tradition has outlived the choir director and many of its original choir members. For over forty years, this concert has been presented the first weekend in December, missing only a couple years throughout almost five decades. This year’s concert is scheduled for Saturday, December 1, at 4:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 2, at 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Last year, Whispering Winds started a new tradition for people who like to sing lots of Christmas carols just for fun – not as a concert, just to get together with friends to sing. That’s coming up on December 16 at 3:00 in the afternoon. I’ll let Mim hand out the songbooks, and then anyone can choose what carols (and even a few secular songs) they want to sing. We’ll sing about an hour, then take a break for coffee and Christmas cookies, and then get back to singing as long as our voices hold out. Feel free to join us at 3:00 p.m. Sunday, December 16. Call me (608.212.6197) if you have any questions.

Meanwhile, I hope your ears, voices, and fingers enjoy the next several weeks of Christmas music as much as mine will! The words of “Joy to the World” capture some of the wonder and excitement of Christmas music. Even heaven and nature are so excited about the coming of Christ to earth that they can’t keep from singing.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her king;
let every heart prepare him room
and heaven and nature sing
and heaven and nature sing
and heaven and heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let all their songs employ,
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy
repeat the sounding joy
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

[“Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts, 1674-1748]

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven, 201 Highland Rd, Cambridge, WI.
The last of this year’s quarterly hymn sings is the Christmas Carol Sing at 3:00 Sunday afternoon, December 16. Everyone is welcome.

Learning to Count by 35

Last week I did a lot of thinking. I was at our Christmas Mountain timeshare in Wisconsin Dells to focus on writing my book on hospitality. I’ve been working on this project for almost three years, and the end is finally in sight. My goal is to complete it by January 31. I think I might make it.

As I was writing, I thought a lot about some of the things I learned in the first 35 years of my life. And then I thought about some of the things I’m learning in the second 35 years of my life – now that I’m getting closer to the end of that segment. But, why 35-year segments?

When I was growing up on the farm, we had both cows and chickens. Most of our milk and eggs were picked up by the milk man and the egg man. But, we also had customers, mostly friends of the family, who bought milk and eggs directly from us on the farm. The milk customers kept track of the gallons of milk they got, and wrote a check to pay for all of it at the end of the month.

Egg customers paid for the eggs at the time they got them. We had a lot more egg customers. Some of them would buy just a dozen or two eggs at a time and come every week or two. Others would buy several dozen eggs at a time, and come about once a month. (In the 1950’s, a bacon-and-egg breakfast was considered one of the healthiest breakfasts possible. People did a lot more baking too, which used up lots of eggs.)

Often the egg customers would come to get eggs in the late afternoon, after school was out. My mom was still at work in Madison, my dad was in the barn, my brother was outside working or playing, and I was the only one in the house. So, I was usually the one to sell the eggs. I needed to keep up to date on what the market price of eggs was so that I knew what to charge the customers. The most frequent price was 35-cents a dozen. This was before the days of calculators, so I would have to multiply the dozens times the price. I quickly learned to count by 35:  35 – 70 – 105 – 140 – 175 – 210. Beyond that, I multiplied on paper.

I still think by 35’s sometimes. Like the first 35 years of my life. That seems to be a pretty natural dividing point. Up through my mid-thirties, I considered myself young, and I looked young. On my 35th birthday, I had to show my driver’s license to prove I was over 21 just to enter a raffle!  In the first 35 or so years of my life, I followed pretty conventional standards. I got a good education and then I got a good job. In my second 35 or so years, I abandoned a few conventions. I’ve been self-employed for most of it, and I try to think regularly about what I’m doing for a living, and why I’m doing it.

My nephew Kevin has been taking pictures of me thinking.

What made me change course in my mid-thirties? I lost my job as a result of a corporate take-over. I learned that financial security wasn’t tied to having a good job. But the most important lesson I learned is “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” [I Thessalonians 5:18 NRSV]

The apparent tragedy of losing my really good job provided the opportunity for me to begin the less conventional segment of my life – being self-employed and doing work that helped people – as a business consultant, an innkeeper, a caregiver, and a retreat center host.

I have many things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Losing my job 26 years ago is one of the most important. I need to remember that, and to remember to “give thanks in all circumstances…”

I’m glad I had the time last week to think about things like this.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Favorites

Mim with her kittens – quite a few years ago.

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

[from “The Sound of Music” by Rodgers and Hammerstein]

One of my favorite words is “favorite.” Whenever I think about a favorite anything – song, person, food , place – I smile. I’m happy just thinking about that favorite thing, like my favorite ice cream – Edy’s French Silk, or my favorite place to go for a walk – CamRock Park, or my favorite aunt – Aunt Edith.

Last week a couple of my favorite cousins brought me two big boxes of music books – all the music that had belonged to Aunt Edith. I’ve just started going through the music. One of my favorite things to do is to go through old music and find old songs that will become new favorites.

Some of the first books I picked up from these boxes were from a series of nine books called, “Favorites – Gospel Songs, Solos, Duets, Trios” (Volumes One through Nine). The first book in the series was published in 1943, the ninth in 1981. I’m looking forward to tracing the evolution of “Favorites” in this “Singspiration” series across five decades.

Danny and Marian doing chores in the hay barn.

Another “favorite” that brings a smile to my face is my favorite Bible verse. Choosing that favorite is easy for me. When I was in grade school my mom made up charts for my brother and me. In today’s terms, they would be called spreadsheets, with the chores we were supposed to do down the left side and days of the week across the top. At the very top of the chart was a Bible verse. Each day, after we had done each chore, we were supposed to read the Bible verse and then check off the square for that day and chore. At the end of the week, if we could recite the Bible verse, we earned one point toward a prize. By the end of the month, if we had earned four points, my mom would give us a prize, usually a small toy. The first verse I memorized from this process was Ephesians 4:32: “Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (I think my mom’s real motive in giving us this verse to memorize was to keep my brother and me from fighting.) This verse is my favorite Bible verse for a couple reasons – one, because I think its message is extremely important and something to remember – to be kind to each other; and two, because of my fond memories of our weekly work charts.

It’s fun to think of all different categories of favorites. All kinds of happy thoughts come to mind.

One reason the word “favorite” is on my mind these days is that Madison Magazine and WISC-TV (the local CBS affiliate) are doing a feature story on “Madison’s Favorite Nurses.” I never thought about who my favorite nurse was, although I guess it should be pretty obvious that my favorite nurse would be Mim. But I’ve learned that I’m not alone with having Mim for this favorite. Several family members of people Mim has cared for in our home nominated her for “Madison’s Favorite Nurse.” Mim was selected from among all the nurses nominated for this honor to be one of seven winners. A couple weeks ago Mim was interviewed for a short “Favorite Nurses” segment that will be aired on WISC-TV. Last week a photographer came to our home to take pictures of Mim at work in our home for the Madison Magazine article. Next month there will be a “Favorite Nurses Recognition” dinner. Mim is feeling quite honored.

Throughout November there’s an online “people’s choice” contest to select the #1 favorite nurse from among the seven favorites. If Mim is your favorite nurse, too, you can vote for her by going to www.MadisonMagazine.com and clicking on the box that says “Madison’s Favorite Nurses – 2012 People’s Choice – Vote Now.” Mim is delighted to have been selected as one of “Madison’s Favorite Nurses.” Each vote that she gets in the “People’s Choice Contest” makes her feel even more honored.

You may wonder what is so special about Mim that she is the favorite nurse of so many people. Madison Magazine quoted from one of Mim’s nomination letters on their website to explain why she’s a favorite.

Mim Jacobson is the personification of nurturing. She senses what people need and she supplies it. She turns her vast medical knowledge into everyday actions. She nurtures bodies and soothes souls. When curing is not possible she provides plenty of caring. She will always be my favorite nurse!

So, does Mim have any favorites? Mim has a favorite story about a woman she cared for who had Alzheimer’s.

I cared for her about three-and-a-half years. She never learned my name. However, one day when I went to pick her up from a respite day care center, as soon as she saw me, she said to her volunteer, “There’s my owner. She’s come to take me home.” That told me she felt safe and “at home” with me.

And finally, here’s one of my favorite pictures of Mim and Abbey at work with one of our favorite people – the one who called Mim her “owner.”

Now it’s time for you to think about some of your favorites – and smile.

Beyond the Sunset

Aunt Edith

Aunt Edith passed away last Tuesday evening. She’s the talented gospel pianist aunt I wrote about in this blog last summer (https://whisperingwindsblog.com/2012/07/30/lets-celebrate/). I woke up several times Tuesday night. My mind was imagining what her welcome in heaven was like. Here’s what came to mind.

Wedding of Helmer and Edith Kenseth (1936)
Edith’s brother, Orvin, and Helmer’s sister, Elsie, were attendants.

Edith’s husband, Helmer, was pretty excited. He had heard from God that Edith would be arriving that evening. Helmer and their son, Gary, had come to my mom and dad’s home for dinner. My sister, Nancy, was also there. Her husband, Clark, had not come because he had volunteered to go on a special assignment to help people on the East Coast deal with the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.

Helmer and Gary, my mom and dad, and Nancy had just finished dinner and were about ready to start on dessert when Edith walked in. Helmer just stared at her with tears in his eyes. He was so happy to see her he couldn’t speak. Gary, who had died of cancer in his 50’s, jumped up and ran to her and gave her a hug.

Nancy got up to set an extra place at the table, and then dished up dessert for everyone. It was homemade apple crisp with vanilla ice cream. She also started a pot of coffee.

My mom asked Edith, “How are you feeling? Isn’t it wonderful to be rid of all your aches and pains!”

Edith just beamed. “I feel absolutely like a new woman! It’s so amazing to see all of you again. I can hardly wait to explore heaven and see the rest of my family and friends, and to make new friends.”

Helmer promised her, “We’ll start that adventure tomorrow morning. Tonight, we’ll just relax together, the six of us. You’ve been through the biggest change of your life. You need to take it easy for a few hours.”

My mom poured coffee for everyone as they started to eat the apple crisp. Edith commented, “Oh my, this tastes even better than when you made it for us in your condo on earth, Nancy.”

“Recipes are the only thing we can bring with us from earth to heaven, and this particular recipe is one of my favorites. It’s even better here because of the amazing apple trees in heaven. I picked the apples this morning. The ice cream is made from very contented cows, too. And no pesticides need to be used in heaven, and no preservatives either. Everything tastes better here.”

My dad changed the subject and asked Edith, “I understand our farm isn’t a farm any more – that the fields have been divided into lots and that houses have been built on most of them. I also heard that the house has been turned into a bed and breakfast or a spiritual retreat center. What’s really happening there?”

“Well, you’ve heard right. There aren’t fields on your farm any more. Your fields of corn and alfalfa have been replaced with houses. Across the road is still farmland, though. The farmhouse has more than doubled in size, thanks to Danny’s and Kevin’s carpentry skills. Marian and Mim have been using the house as a B&B-style retreat center. Hundreds of people have found their way to the farm to find a place to pray and spend quiet time with God. Something you’d like, Carl, is that they have hymn sings there a few times a year. I went to their Christmas Carol Sing last December. Oh my, we sang for at least two hours. It was so much fun! During a break from our singing to eat Marian’s homemade Christmas cookies, I played the piano. What fun that was!”

Helmer couldn’t wait any longer to ask. “How’s Matt doing with his NASCAR racing this year?”

“Well, you know I can’t stand to watch it on TV. I get too nervous that he might crash. Colleen watched him win his last race, and I guess he’s qualified for the big final race.”

Helmer grinned from ear to ear with that news. “Maybe I’ll look down on that race. Normally, we don’t watch what’s happening on earth because it’s too depressing. But you know how much I love to watch Matt race.”

Gary had been listening intently to the whole conversation. Now he had a really serious question. As a former Marine, he wondered how the country was doing. “What’s happening with the presidential election this year?”

“Oh, that’s terrible,” was Edith’s response. “People and corporations are spending millions of dollars on TV ads to distort the truth about each candidate. Just think about how much good could be done if that money were invested in helping people instead of trying to influence people to vote one way or another. At the end, I just tuned it all out. I’m oh so glad I’m here instead.” She turned her head to look out the window, to catch another glimpse of what heaven is like.

After a moment of silence, Edith asked, “By the way, are there any pianos in heaven? I want to play ‘Beyond the Sunset.’ I’ll sing it, too. I think my voice has come back! Let’s see.”

Beyond the sunset, O glad reunion,
With our dear loved ones who’ve gone before;
In that fair homeland we’ll know no parting,
Beyond the sunset, forevermore!

Aunt Edith playing her new piano in heaven.