Sing Along

One of my earliest church memories is listening to my dad sing in the St. Bonaventure Catholic Church choir. Mom and all of the kids would sit on the gospel side of the church (a habit I maintain to this day). In the early days, the choir was in the back of the church in the choir loft. At some point (likely after Vatican II), the choir was relocated to the front of the church – also on the gospel side – and I could watch him sing. I loved that.

He had a beautiful tenor voice, and though I never asked him the question (kids, ask your parents questions NOW), I suspect he really loved singing choral music. I say this because as I have reported before, in addition to singing in the church choir, he also belonged to a men’s choral group called the Apollo Club.

So, my love for choral music – and for singing choral music – came from my dad. There you go; another thing for which to be grateful to my father.

When my sister Bec was in college at the University of Nebraska, she took Choir as an elective choice, at least for one year, and maybe more. Her choir performed Handel’s Messiah at some point in the year, and I remember attending and being introduced for the very first time to that masterpiece. I decided right then and there that when I went to college, I was going to take Choir and perform Handel’s Messiah. I was in Choir at my high school, but let’s face it. Handel’s Messiah.

So when I did, indeed go to the University of Nebraska, I took Choir as an elective. As soon as I could, I began figuring out how I could be part of the chorale that sang that gorgeous music. I quickly learned that it required a tryout. Gulp.

I do not have a good voice. In the olden days, I could read music (thanks to my five years of piano lessons) and carry a reasonable tune. But I never even tried to fool myself into thinking that I had any singing talent. Nevertheless, I was determined to get on that chorale.

I don’t remember much about that tryout. I assume I must have had to sing something to the choir director, but I don’t remember what I sang. I only remember one thing: He asked me before I tried out what part I sang – soprano or alto. I, of course, had no idea; however, Bec sang alto. If it was what she sang, then I must also sing alto. Right?

So I performed whatever-it-was for him, and much to my surprise, I was accepted to the chorus. As I walked out of the room, he said to my back, “By the way, I don’t really think you sing alto, but we’ll go with that since that’s what you think you sing.”

Like I had any idea….

That semester – that class – was one of the best times of my life. And while the Hallelujah Chorus is magnificent, it’s not my favorite choral piece in the Messiah. That would be Worthy is the Lamb that Was Slain. Those opening notes bring tears to my eyes every single time.

Sunday, Bill and I went to Wellshire Presbyterian Church to worship at a special service that consisted mostly of choral music. Addie, Alastair, Dagny, and Maggie Faith all performed at least one number with one or another choral group. It was a joy to watch them sing.

What was also a joy was listening to the church’s regular choir perform some magnificent music. It’s hard to believe that a church choir could be so talented, but they really sounded beautiful. The church is blessed to have a gorgeous pipe organ with a worthy organist. That, along with the timpani drums and the magnificent voices, brought me chills.

And I went home and bought a ticket for a performance of Handel’s Messiah next Sunday at a nearby church. Yay me.

The Ugly Side of Christmas

Ho, Ho, Ho, there’s really nothing better
Than a beautiful girl in an ugly Christmas sweater
Ho, Ho, Ho, and now I can’t forget her
That beautiful girl in an ugly Christmas sweater – Garth Brooks and John Michael Martin

Singer Andy Williams and his brothers proudly wear their Christmas sweaters. Admittedly, this was back in the 1960s.

Singer Andy Williams and his brothers proudly wear their Christmas sweaters back circa 1960.

For as long as I can recall – at least in my adult life — beginning on Thanksgiving Day and going on through Christmas Day, I have worn a Christmas sweater. There was a time when I owned so many Christmas sweaters that I could just about wear a different sweater to work every day during that period of time.

As you can imagine, in order to own that many sweaters, they can’t all be tastefully designed. In fact, you might be in the rather large camp that believes there is no such thing as a tasteful Christmas sweater. For much of my adult life, that didn’t matter, because the fact of the matter is that the gaudier they were, the more I liked them. I accented them with holiday-themed turtlenecks, Christmas socks, and Christmas earrings. It became, well, my thing. People would come to my office to see what sweater I was wearing that day. My sweaters ranged from fairly dressy all the way down to sweatshirts (those I saved for the weekends).

A lot of my Christmas sweaters disintegrated with age and had to be tossed away. The bells no longer tinkled when I walked and the Santa lost the cotton ball on the tip of his hat. After I retired, I will admit that I gave away some of the more garish styles to Goodwill, where I’m certain they were purchased and worn as jokes. After all, NOBODY would be seen seriously wearing such attire.

Still, in the boxes that I store under the bed in our guest room live a fair number of Christmas sweaters, and a relatively embarrassing number of them would be considered within most social strata to be eligible for Goodwill.

All of this is background for a story I have to tell you. Late morning on Sunday, my cell phone rang. I was alerted that it was a call from Addie. When I answered, she greeted me unnecessarily with, “Hi Nana. It’s Addie. I have a favor to ask you.”


She went on to tell me that later that evening, her youth group at her church was having their annual Christmas party, and the theme was – wait for it – UGLY CHRISTMAS SWEATERS. There was, in fact, a contest for the ugliest sweater.

“Nana, do you have any sweaters that my friends and I could use for our party?” she asked me.

Oh. Do I ever.

You see, I’m not sensitive to the fact that my Christmas sweaters are ugly. I know now – have always known, in fact, that they are garish.

So a bit later, our doorbell rang, and there were Addie and some of her friends to take a gander at my sweater collection.

“Oh my,” they said in unity, and with great awe and, well, joy as they gazed at my sweater collection. So many from which to choose!

Perhaps unnecessarily, I will tell you that the sweaters worn by Addie, Alastair, and their friends were a hit at the Wellshire Presbyterian Youth Group’s Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest. In fact, one of the sweaters won the grand prize for the ugliest Christmas sweater, earning its wearer a $20 gift card and the pride of wearing the ugliest sweater……

Left to right -- Spencer, wearing the prize-winning sweater; Alastair Luci, Addie, and Mettie. Apparently, when it comes to Ugly Sweater Contests, all sweaters are gender-neutral.

Left to right — Spencer, wearing the prize-winning sweater; Alastair, Luci, Addie, and Mettie (who, by the way, is wearing someone else’s sweater; happily, I must not be the only one in possession of such items). Apparently, when it comes to Ugly Sweater Contests, all sweaters are gender-neutral.

I’m happy for him (though frankly, I think the sweater Addie wore should have taken the prize), and delighted that the kids had such a nice time. But now I need my sweaters back so that I can wear them once again!

Saturday Smile: Peanuts and Cracker Jack Amidst the Holly

Last Sunday Bill and I attended church services at Wellshire Presbyterian Church, where Dave and Jll and the kids worship. The church was having what was basically a carol worship service, and Addie sang in the youth choir and Dagny and Maggie Faith sang in the children’s choir. The church was packed to the gills.

dagnymaggie-2016-2Each week the church allows children to pick up a worship bag in the back of church that contains crafts for them to work on rather than being bored and whispering loudly, “How much longer, Mom?” Dagny and Maggie Faith each had one of the bags, and because the church was so full, they sat next to the rest of the family on the steps leading to the altar. As we listened to the carols and heard the word of God as well as those of the pastor, the girls diligently worked on their religious-themed crafts. Dagny was working very hard on a white board she had pulled out of the bag. I envisioned that she was writing a prayer with the blue and red markers she was using. Or maybe drawing a picture of the Holy Family. Finally, she held up the white board so that we could see what she had drawn. In red and blue letters, and extravagantly decorated, she had written…..


Dagny and most of the rest of the family attended a Cubs game in Chicago this summer, and proudly wore Cubs hats.

Dagny and much of the rest of the family attended a Cubs game in Chicago this summer, and proudly wore Cubs hats.

Let’s hope God is a Cubbies fan!

Have a great weekend.

Keeping Score

They should make a law against 11 o’clock morning NFL football games. – President Rutherford B. Hayes

Lemonade Lucy

Lemonade Lucy

I will come clean right off the bat. President Rutherford B. Hayes didn’t actually say those words. I can’t confirm that he actually said any words. Have you ever heard any famous and meaningful quotes from Rutherford B. Hayes? I suspect he had some words with his mother regarding her name selection of Rutherford. And I’m certain he had a few choice words for his wife Lucy, who was referred to as “Lemonade Lucy” because she wouldn’t allow alcohol in the White House. “Lucy, how am I supposed to watch a Redskins game without a pint in my hand?” he might have said.

I’m actually the one to whom the above quote should be attributed. Because seriously? An 11 o’clock game on Sunday morning? And that would be 10 o’clock in the morning in California and Arizona. Heavens to Betsy. One still has sleep crust in the corner of one’s eyes.

Truth be told, I was wide awake at 11 o’clock Sunday morning when the Broncos began playing football against the Cleveland Browns. I just wasn’t sitting in front of my television. Instead, I was sitting at Wellshire Presbyterian Church watching Alastair, Dagny, and Maggie Faith – along with several other children — sing an African hymn to the congregation. Off to the side, Adelaide played the glockenspiel as accompaniment, and quite well. She’s a young woman of many talents, glockenspiel-playing being only one.

I was foresighted enough, however, to set our DVR to record the game so that I could watch it when we got home from church. In fact, I invited Court and his kids to come over to watch the delayed viewing of the game. Court is used to watching recordings of the Broncos since he usually has parent-of-young-children type duties every weekend. He will generally text me something like I am not watching the game live so I will watch the recorded game later. If you text me one thing about the game, I will come over to your house and personally place a flock of plastic flamingos in your front yard. I keep my mouth shut.

But that was the thing. Just as soon as the minister said amen, Bill was out of the church with his cell phone turned on and was determining the status of the game. “Oh my gosh,” he said. “The score is….. .”

“STOP,” I yelled, making the 12 or so senior citizens (who were the only ones besides us in church as the other Presbyterians were at home watching the Broncos game) look up from their walkers. “I don’t want to know the score because I’m going home to watch the game.”

Bill has lots of wonderful traits. Keeping a secret such as the score of the game is not particularly one of them. Still, he did a pretty good job. The trouble was, Alastair was with us, and he asked his papa to show him the score.

“Don’t you dare,” I said to Alastair, just as he opened up his mouth to spill the beans. “I mean it. Don’t you even think about it.”

Well, he could think about nothing else, really.

“The score is an even number to an odd number,” he couldn’t help but tell me. And Ladies and Gentlemen, it took EVERY FIBER OF HIS BEING to keep himself from telling me who was ahead.

But I will tell you a secret. I sometimes read the ending of a book first. And apparently to me, watching football is the same thing. So, while Court was in one room watching the recorded game, I secretly went into the kitchen and watched the end of the game live. I justified it by telling myself that I would enjoy the game so much more if I knew we had won.

Of course, Peyton was being Peyton, so it was a nerve wracking experience to say the least. And seriously, has anyone mentioned to Demaryius Thomas that he’s a wide receiver and is, by definition, supposed to receive the ball and keep it? And maybe even run while carrying it? Sunday I’m not even sure he could have caught the downtown bus. Sorry. I just had to get that off my chest. I am very happy to be 6 and 0, even if our strong safety has scored more points than our highly-paid wide receiver. As far as I’m concerned, a TD is a TD.

Anyhoo, by this time, Court had figured out that I was watching the game live in the kitchen. He had likely also figured out that the game was in overtime because I was in there a long time. I could only pretend to be preparing baked beans for so long. Besides, as hard as I tried, I was unable to prevent myself from letting out mewling sounds when balls were dropped or interceptions were thrown. “I can hear you in there Mom, and I know what you’re doing.”

At the end of it all, the Broncos had another mark on the win side of the scorecard, and Court forgave me for my indiscretions.

Serving a platter of barbecued ribs for Bill’s birthday dinner helped. Take a look at this satisfied group….

McLains and Zierks gathered to celebrate Bill's birthday by eating barbecued ribs! Alyx is present, but taking the photo.

McLains and Zierks gathered to celebrate Bill’s birthday by eating barbecued ribs! Alyx is present, but taking the photo. And by the way, see the enormous platter of ribs? All gone by the end of the meal.