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The Sounds of Christmas

Our little town had its Christmas tree lighting last week.  As I walked along main street, listening to brave carolers striving to sound joyful as the mist turned to freezing rain, and later hail, the sight of the lights instantly filled my mind with scenes from Dickens' A Christmas Carol.   There wasn't anything particularly Victorian about the scene, and it's not as if there were any ghosts or street urchins.  No, last year I'd walked under these very same lights, face frozen but smiling as I listening to Dickens' words on my iPod.  I love it when that happens.  I'll see a curve in a road and instantly know what I was listening to the last time I walked there, or hear a bit of a story and know where I was when I first heard it.   This doesn't happen when I'm driving; it's something particular to walking and the way it makes me engage with the world around me.

Lex center 2010
When I hear the first notes of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", I'm instantly transported to the tree lined streets I grew up on.  When my friends had been called in for supper, I would go out walking.  My mother worked, so my brother and I made our own dinner, on our own schedule most nights.  I liked to wander as the sun set, watching the lights come on in neighbors' windows and the sun's last rays stretch over frozen fields.  As I walked I sang aloud; there weren't a lot of people around.  There was one year that I loved "Winter Wonderland" and joyfully sang all the verses as an endless loop.  Another year I loved "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" with its alto friendly notes, but the one that stands out the most is the year of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear".  When I hear that song I can feel the acrylic yarn of long outgrown mittens, hear the crunch of ice and snow underfoot and smell distant wood smoke.  I sang that song like a prayer, full of longing and wonder.

"Still through the cloven skies they come/ With peaceful wings unfurled/ And still their heavenly music floats/O'er all the weary world" 

The bare trees once again sway with the wind overhead and the stars shine painfully bright.   

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Today I rarely sing as I walk; there are just too many people around.  Instead this December I'll be listening to Christmas instead. 


Do you have any Christmas favorites?  Leave a recommendation in the comments.


If you're local... Lexington Symphony Holiday Pops Concert

If you live in the Lexington area, you'll want to be in town this Friday night.  Lexington  starts off its holiday season with lighting the town tree, main street shopping (stores will actually be open past dark), carolers and the Lexington Symphony's Holiday Pops concert. 

 I attended their first Holiday Pops concert four years ago, and loved it.  The blustery walk from my house.  The sound of carolers serenading diners at Marios.  Main Street decked in balsam bunting, Christmas trees in barrels and thousands of tiny white lights.  Finally entering the warmth of Carey Hall, my toes warming up as the symphony does the same.  And then the music - the golden horns, the fairy harp, the percussionists with their bags of tricks, the violinists moving together like waves on the sea and the oboists surprising us all with the sounds they can pull from their Dr. Seuss instruments.  It's a wonder-filled event.   I wouldn't miss it.  In fact I haven't missed one yet.


The evening ends with a lively sing-a-long during which Santa has been known to make an appearance. It's a lovely, low-tech, heart warming evening that I wish everyone could experience.

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Here's the official description:

The Holiday Spirit Starts at Lexington Symphony's Holiday Pops!

Friday, November 30
4pm Kids Pops! 45 min.
8pm Evening Pops!  1.5 hr.
Cary Hall, 1605 Mass. Ave., Lexington
Maestro Jonathan McPhee conducts

Tickets are still available at or in town at The Crafty Yankee.  While you're there to pick up tickets, don't forget to choose a name of a family or senior in need from their giving tree.   

No matter where you live, remember concerts are a great chance to work on your holiday crafting.  Not that I'd know anything about that...

Scarf in progress Dec2011




Dance Like No One's Watching or The Treme Effect

Have you been watching Treme, the HBO series about life in post-Katrina New Orleans?


I recently bought both seasons' soundtracks and have just one complaint.  It's impossible to listen to them on a walk, without becoming your own personal second line

The feet find the rhythm first.  Then the hips start to sway, knees bend deep and before you know it you're wondering what would happen if you were to throw in a couple spins and full on dance-walk your way down the road. 

You've been warned.

Video of a real life second line in New Orleans

HBO version (opening scene of episode 1).

Poetry in Motion

Morning clouds 022412

I woke this morning to a sky of shocking blue, with clouds so fluffy and white they looked more like the creation of children set loose with a bag of cotton balls, than anything to be found in nature.  The wind shook my window in its casement and there it was, the embodiment of a poem I memorized when I was just learning to read...



                                            White sheep, white sheep, 

                                            On a blue hill,

                                            When the wind stops

                                            You all stand still;

                                            When the wind blows

                                            You walk away slow,

                                            White sheep, white sheep,

                                            Where do you go?


Morning clouds trees 022412

I still have a few of my most well worn and loved books from childhood.  I wanted to be sure to give "Clouds" author credit, so I went to my shelf and there between an old scratch and sniff Winnie the Pooh book and my copy of Miss Suzy, was Poems and Prayers for the Very Young.  As a kid I loved the pictures and remember wishing there were more poems and fewer prayers.  That may be part of why I read "Clouds" so much.  Book 022412

The author is Christina G. Rossetti.  I'd never heard of her, but of course Wikipedia had.  It turns out she was a famous poet in England in the 1800s, who many saw as the successor to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  Her life reads like a novel,  not something I think I've ever said about an encyclopedia entry. 

Without realizing it, you've probably encountered her poetry before.  She's the author of the Christmas carol "In the Bleak Midwinter".   It's somehow fitting that a break in this winter's bleak weather lead me to learning about Rossetti.



Farewell to Fall

According to the earth and sun, it won't be winter for nearly a month yet, but with James Taylor singing about winter wonderlands, Christmas crafting spilling from tables and chairs, and the first candle on my advent wreath lit, it's not exactly fall either. 

This year's fall was a muted celebration.  The Halloween snow storm ripped many of the leaves from the trees before they even had a chance to change color.  While I'm sure that disappointed people who had travelled far to see the famous New England color, I was surprised to find myself relieved.  Most years the trees put on a display to rival the 4th of July fireworks.  The reds burn, the golds glow and the evergreens shine in contrast.

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And just as with the fireworks, when the show is over there is a sense of loss and what remains appears all the drabber in comparison to what has been.  It usually takes weeks for me to shift from seeing the barren trees as harbingers of cold and misery, to forms with their own minimalist grace and beauty.

This year the transition was gentler; trees stripped by the storm stood alongside smaller plants displaying their fall glory.  Instead of golden arbors, we had sunlight as soft as butter and looping vines of bittersweet.  It was not a traditional fall, but it was beautiful in its own way. 

  Church moon_enhanced




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So long fall, until we meet again...

A Step in the Right Direction

Have you ever noticed how when you buy a new car, suddenly you notice that car everywhere?  And if you or someone you know has an ailment, it seems to be the topic of every news report and article out there.  I've been experiencing something similar since writing my last post, the one about choosing an uplifting quote to focus on while walking.  Suddenly I'm aware of just how frequently the image of walking is used in speech.  I've started a list, though I'm sure there are more. 

  1. take baby steps
  2. step in time / step in
  3. one step at a time
  4. walk the line
  5. spring in your step
  6. a step in the right direction
  7. step out of line
  8. step/go out on a limb
  9. march to the beat of your own drum
  10. one foot in front of the other (one of my favorites & quite seasonally appropriate)
  11. step out of ones comfort zone

I've had a little experience with that last one recently.  In late August a friend told me about a photography contest, where the winning photos would appear in a calendar to raise money for the Lincoln Land Conservation Trust.  If you've been reading this blog for any time, you've surely heard about or seen photos of Lincoln.  The town is a living postcard of rural New England, and one of my favorite places to go walking.   

Lincoln road 050611
My first reaction to the idea was "You're crazy".  I've never studied photography.  I take my photos with a Cannon Powershot, a cheap point-and-shoot.  There was no way that I was qualified.  But the more I thought about all the reasons I couldn't do it, the louder my gut asked "Why not?"  So I decided to submit a photo,

or two,

or eight.

About a month ago I learned that some of my photos had made it through the first cut.  I didn't know how many or which ones, but I decided that just getting that far counted as a success. 

Then just this week I learned that TWO of my photos had made it into the calendar!  Yes, I admit I did a happy dance, which may or may not have startled the birds on my windowsill at the time.  And today when I actually saw the finished calendar and my photos among the work of such talented photographers, let's just say Christmas came early. 

Here are my winning photos.  (That's really fun to say).


Winter won't quit"Winter won't Quit" 

If you'd like to own your own copy of the calendar and see a bit of the real New England (rather than the same old over-photographed spots that  appear in most calendars) they can be purchased through the LLCT for just $15 plus shipping.  The profits go to preserving open space in the town, maintaining Lincoln's rural character and caring for the 375 acres already in conservation.  Part of that mission is maintenance of the miles and miles of public trails that crisscross the town.



Enjoying the Passing of Time

There's something about the change from summer to autumn that is more ominous and thought consuming than any other seasonal change in the year.  The change from winter into spring is more dramatic, but by the time those first green sprouts sparkle like emeralds in the snow, we're ready to get down on our hands and knees to kiss them. We run headlong toward spring. 

The change from summer to autumn, however, feels like time is running through our fingers.   As I read about others trying to squeeze in that last bit of sumer fun, setting by the bounty of the season's harvest, and making preparations for the long winter ahead, the sense of time being my enemy grows.   Summer is so loaded with images of freedom and childhood hedonism, that even someone like me, who grumbles endlessly about the  heat and humidity, can fall prey to thinking all will be lost with the turn of a calendar page. 

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I'd been fighting this dread for about a week, when a wonderfully freeing, and as is so often the case, incredibly obvious thought occurred to me.  Whether I grumble and obsess, or smile and accept it, summer will end, autumn will come and the days will grow ever and ever shorter.   Why waste engergy dreading it?  How could that energy be better spent?

Accepting Autumn - a To Do List

  1. Return my mind (and hands) to the cozier crafts of knitting, quilting and crochet. Done
  2. Wipe the dust from my recipe books and dream of the baking and braising to come. Done
  3. Remember all the outdoor activities that I put on hold through the soporific heat of summer. Done
  4. Make friends with the darkness In progress

This last one may be the most crucial.  The loss of daylight, is really the only thing I dread about the change from summer to autumn.  I love the cooler weather, the dryer air, needing a sweater in the evening, and eventually, waking to silvery, frosted grass.  If sunset could just continue to happen after dinner, rather than before, it would be the perfect season. 

Since I don't see the tilt of the Earth changing to satisfy my preferences, I've started taking my walks after dark in preparation.   Taking a walk on a soft, summer night is a pleasure.  My theory is, that if I can create enough good associations with walking in the dark now, maybe when I have little other choice I will see it as a good thing.  If not, at least I'll be accustomed to it, which is better than where I was a week ago. 

My preparations for autumn may not be as tangible as stacking firewood or canning tomatoes, but they're what I needed to help me enjoy summer's passing. 


For the Love of Porch Swings

  Piano player porch Not the house in the story

Not long ago I saw an open house advertised and couldn't resist taking a closer look.  Before I even stepped inside, I knew the house was not for me; the roof was bowed and mossy, the exterior walls were mottled with mold, and even from the ground I could see that the second story window frames had lost chunks of wood.  But I was there, so I went in.

With my first step on the azure carpet, I was cloaked in the scent of dust, disuse, and Renuzit air fresheners.  Do I even need to mention that the next room had faux panelling and shag carpet?  Visions of my childhood bedroom filled my mind and I wondered, would it be rude to leave without even signing the book?  Then I saw something I knew I had to see before I left.  Off the dining room was a screened in porch, the sort that belongs on a building referred to as "the camp".  It had that same rough, well-used feel, where the screens are sturdy and the carpentry may or may not be.  And most importantly, at one end hung a wide wooden porch swing.  I climbed on, casting an eye at the beams to see if they were sound and began to swing.  Back and forth.  Drowsily push off with my toe -  back and forth.  A chickadee called.  A squirrel complained unseen from a branch high above, and I thought, maybe this house has some potential.  Such is the powerful draw of the porch swing.

  Boardwalk in woods
Last summer, while trying to find a new route to the library, I stumbled on a street that knows the value of the porch swing.  On Parker Street, which is at the most a quarter mile long, there are no fewer than seven porch swings!

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Parker street 060710

There are swings that appear purely ornamental, on porches so full of flowers and sculptures I can't imagine anyone relaxing there.  While other swings sway beneath wind chimes and grape vines, begging you to sit, sip an icy lemonade, and sing "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess.

My absolute favorite, however, is one that by all rights shouldn't be there at all.  This house doesn't even have a porch by conventional standards; it's more of a landing.  The inhabitants didn't let such minor details get in their way.  No, they removed the railing and attached the swing in its place! 

Porch swing 060710

You can get a better sense of just how tiny a space it is from the side view.

Side porch swing 060710
I love the ingenuity of it, the optimism, the unwillingness to let conventional wisdom dictate the rules.  I'd like to meet these people - if I ever see them out on their swing.



All or Nothing

(To the tune of "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music)

Rain drops on ice and slush in my socks,

Inky black darkness and cars that can't stop,

Soaking wet mittens, my windshield's all gray,

These are the reasons I won't walk today!

It was only a few months ago that I swore to myself that this winter, I would fight the nearly inevitable winter blahs, by among other things, taking a walk first thing every morning.  My doctor prescribed this regimen last year and it really helped.  I took the postal carriers' motto as my own and was out there in almost every kind of weather, allowing myself to skip only a few truly foul mornings.  I felt good and I was proud of myself for saying I would do something and following through.

As I drove home last night I realized, not only had I not gone for a walk in days, but I had absolutely no plans to break that streak by going out in the slush and rain.  Where was the stubborn fortitude I'd summoned up last year?  Just how wimpy have I become?   I certainly have the appropriate gear to make such a walk reasonably safe and dry, if not actually fun. 

And there it was.  I walk for many reasons, but enjoyment is top on the list.  Why should I turn something that I love into a chore by forcing myself to do it when my heart isn't in it?  Because I said I would.  The answer popped into my mind almost before I finished forming the question.  With that the opposition rested.  I said I would walk every day.  I made a promise to myself, and even mentioned it here on the blog.  What possible rebuttal could there be?

I was fighting with the lock of my door, rain and roof melt pouring down the collar of my coat, when I asked myself, how important is it?  How could it possibly matter, to anyone, if I took a walk in this mess or not?  If I wanted some exercise I could clean house, or better yet, do some yoga.  Adjusting the plan to fit the needs of the day is not failure; it's healthy.



In the Bleak Midwinter

These days the sun makes it just over the treeline and then sighs in exhaustion and starts to set.  The short hours of daylight make me eager to follow the sun's lead and head for bed early...say 5 o'clock.  But in the weeks leading up to the winter solstice,  it was the seemingly endless, impenetrable darkness that made the Christmas lights' glow all the brighter. 

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I love the traditional New England, understated candle in each window look, but I couldn't capture one with my camera.  So here are a few houses that are classic, in a slightly more lavish way.

This house is in Winchester.  I assume the garland of fruit above the door must be fake, but from the sidewalk it looked quite real.   It made me think of the historic homes of Portsmouth NH, where citrus was used as a sign of wealth and hospitality, especially in the cold of winter. 

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This house made me want to just stand and stare.  And I did, until I started to worry that someone would notice.    I love the child-sized toy soldiers guarding the entrance and the Christmas tree filling those floor to ceiling windows.  I wonder what it's like to be on the inside of a house with that sort of window.  Do you feel like you're in a fishbowl or do you become oblivious to it?  They're absolutely lovely from the outside.  

I've only seen such windows on historical homes, which makes me wonder how the original inhabitants ever stayed warm through a Massachusetts winter.  The only thing I can imagine is that it was a symbol of wealth, the sort of thing that says "I'm so rich I can afford to be wasteful", just like owning a Hummer today. 

Lex center

I get nostalgic at the site of the big, orb-like Christmas lights (like the ones in the first picture in this post), but I'm happy to say that a couple years  ago our town took up a donation to change all the town holiday lighting to more efficient LED bulbs. 

IMG_3988 The trees on Mass Ave appear draped in fairly lights.  I was walking under them last week during a snow shower and it was like walking through a snow globe.

Mass Ave
Just take a look at the beautiful holiday display the newest addition to downtown created.  Don't you just want to spend a wintry afternoon in there surrounded by books?  At the time they hadn't even opened yet, but thanks to this display (and my love of children's books) I can't wait to make The Elephant's Trunk a walk destination.  I've found having an enticing destination can be the difference between putting on enough gear to face the cold for a walk, and staying inside quilting with a mug of hot cocoa. 

Elephants Trunk
Early each December Lexington has a shopper's night where the stores stay open past dinner (the usual closing time for all but the restaurants and the movie theater), Santa arrives via a firetruck, the symphony does a great holiday concert and carolers stroll the streets and shops.  Here's a quick video of one performing group.  I couldn't quite decide if it was rude or not to tape them, so I tried not to make it too obvious.


Lexington symphony 120310 Santa at the Lexington Symphony

One of my favorite walks I took this holiday season was through a residential area while listening to A Christmas Carol.  I've seen quite a few plays and movie adaptations of the story, but the original text has such wonderful description it's almost a new story.  Take for example this line from a description of the Christmas party Scrooge's first employer gave. "In came a fiddler with a music-book and went up to the lofty desk, and made such an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches".  Who would think to compare a sound to a stomach ache?  Yet it works, I heard it and I knew just what a racket was being made.  If you'd like to hear the story (and get some great insight into why it's called a carol and other things you may never have considered before), check out Craftlit.

I think I've mentioned before that I often associate a certain place with what I was listening to when I walked there.  A Christmas Carol, and specifically Marley's chains will come to mind each time I walk past this grandstand.  You might recognize it from my post about summer music.


And this lovely home is now connected in my mind to the party the Ghost of Christmas Past has Scrooge revisit.

Now Christmas is past, and once the new year begins the lights will slowly disappear from people's homes.  Officially the days are getting longer once again, so I suppose we don't need those lights quite so much to brighten our days and nights.  But it was truly a feast for the eyes while it lasted.  I'm looking forward to next year's.

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