December 30, 2013

What's in a Signature?

A few years ago I was with my kids in a music store which sold new and used equipment and sheet music, and smelled of musty basements, when I came across a paper-bound 1950 copy of The Trapp Family Book of Christmas Songs. I looked through it, noticing a signature on the inside front cover.

I asked the price of the book and the proprietor said I could have it for free. Surprised, I gladly took the book with me when we left the store. I was not convinced the signature was Maria von Trapp's but I rarely turn down a free book, especially one with beautiful arrangements of old European Christmas carols. Some years, I rarely sit down at the piano except at Christmas time when I pull out all the books of carols I have been collecting for the past twenty years.

A few months after I found the book, my mom, a historian and archivist, came down for a visit. She found it by the piano and began looking through it. She thought the signature might be geniune, but I still did not have a way of finding out - the internet had turned up nothing - short of researching and contacting hard-to-find experts. As far as I knew, the Antiques Road Show was not going to be visiting my area any time soon. As is common with me, after a short time I completely forgot about the whole thing until I was reminded of it this week. My fellow blogger Lucille posted about finding the English comedic novelist Barbara Pym's signature in a cook book she had acquired, and I thought perhaps I should try looking up the official signature of Maria von Trapp. Obviously, this time I had more luck. The signature was identical to the one in my copy of the book.

I then went on to see how much a signed paperback copy might be worth. I found one example selling for eighty-three dollars. Not bad, especially considering my initial investment of zero dollars.

The monetary value of the book is one thing, but the tangible fact of the flowing signature in plain blue ink of such a personality as Maria von Trapp of The Sound of Music fame is quite another. When I was a young girl my mom read me Maria von Trapp's autobiographies while I brushed her hair. When The Sound of Music was re-shown on the big screen in our town, she took my brother and me to see it. Every year between Christmas and New Year's when the film came on TV, my group of teenage friends and I would gather at one of our homes and have our own 'sing-along Sound of Music'. The character of Maria von Trapp has been part of my stock pile of childhood heroes for almost as long as I can remember. When examining the signature once again, I thought of the hand and the spirit that pressed pen to the paper in my posession. I read The Trapp Family Singers again, recently, and watched a biography of her on television. As an adult able to read between the lines, I realized that Maria von Trapp was not an easy person to live with. She drove her children very hard and had outrageous flares of temper - unlike the film, the captain von Trapp seems to have been the mild one who kept the family at peace. The von Trapps were immigrants to America after escaping the Nazi plans for the good captain to fight for their side - that part of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical and film is true. Like many immigrants, they were determined to succeed and make a life in their new country - and Maria was their driving force. I cannot say I blame her. Immigrants must have felt a great deal of pressure in those days, and they must have also felt a good deal of fear at being aliens in a new country. One of her more sensitive children did run away and ended up having shock therapy - a favourite treatment in the 1950's and 60's to treat mental breakdown. The family made a living as a successful touring choir. The book I have would probably have been sold at one of their concerts. They also had a cottage industry in their home and everyone in the family used their considerable artistic talents to make objects for sale when they were not touring. The family carries on with their cottage industry today at their Vermont mountain resort Trapp Family Lodge.

My son Galen, a collector who frequents garage sales in summer came home with a DVD special edition of The Sound of Music and gave it to me last year to replace our old VHS cassette copy. Last summer, my youngest daughter wanted to watch it, so I watched part of it with her. Afterwards, she watched the special interview with all the grown up actors who played the von Trapp children, but when I said I was going to watch the biography of Maria von Trapp, my daughter asked me to please wait until she was either not at home or in bed. She said she was not ready to know the truth about the story and about the Maria von Trapp beyond Julie Andrews just yet. Perhaps she knew instinctively what is said about meeting your heroes -that you shouldn't, at least until you know more about the world and human nature, can look past your hero's faults and celebrate their successes and their contributions to human history.

December 23, 2013

A Christmas Greeting

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you tidiings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a  multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and goodwill towards men."

'And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.'

Wishing all my friends in the Blogosphere a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2014!


December 18, 2013

A Christmas Carol Day

I did not want to go with the school choir on their day tour of senior's care homes. I did not. I was tired and had a list of chores and errands to do before hosting Saturday evening's dinner party. The acappella group I sing with had worked hard for weeks to prepare for our own performance at the previous evening's choral festival. Our performance had gone well, but all during the night, my mind had sung our carol over and over without my permission:

Gaudete! Gaudete Christus est natus
Ex Maria, virgine. Gaudete!

That is always the way after a performance. Nevertheless, I had woken up feeling like something the cat dragged in. Ugh.

I had told my daughter's music teacher that I would come along on the tour only if not enough parents stepped forward, that I was really busy. She phoned me the day before the tour and asked me to come. I couldn't say no. The next day, Katie and I got up a bit earlier than usual, made our lunches for the day, and packed our bags with some activities to do on the bus between care homes. When we arrived at the school's music room we learned there had been a mix-up with the buses so we would have to walk to our first care home. It was a sunny, windless, brilliant day with frost on the rooftops and lawns, so I welcomed the walk of several blocks, and I think it was a good way to start the day for all the children, too.  With one of the parents carrying the keyboard, we paraded down the street in a long, jolly line. The first care home was brand new and quite elegant with chandeliers and Victorian furniture, high ceilings, sweeping staircases and lush carpeting. The choir performed a half hour set for a large group of residents in varying states of awareness and several cheerful and attentive staff members, and then it was time to leave for the next town. A bus had appeared out of thin air, it seemed, and we were off.

We visited three more care homes that day, none as fancy as the first. The children had been informed of the kind of audience they could expect, and were asked, instead of shaking hands with the seniors who were vulnerable to the kind of germs children are bound to carry, to go around and wish them a good day and a Merry Christmas after the set of carols. The choir did their best, but by the third care home the kids were visibly drooping. The rooms were overly warm, the air stuffy and they had sung the same set of songs all morning. The other parents and I made hand signals from the back of the room in an effort to encourage the kids to sing out, and at least cover their mouths when they yawned. Fortunately, the next item on the iternarary was lunch and a runaround in a nearby playground, which was most welcome for all of us.

I was moved several times that day by the reaction of many of the elderly audience members. While most of them merely listened or slept through the performance, there would always be a few singing along, usually quietly, but with sweet enjoyment. Most of the songs the choir sang were fairly typical choral arrangements of songs written for school choirs and not immediately recognizable to most people, but there were a few familiar verses like The First Noel, which the director would invite the seniors to sing. On the bus between care homes, the kids would belt out Santa Clause is Coming to Town, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Jingle Bells, and all those old favourites, but by the third care home their enthusiasm was waning for their prescribed set list. Another mom suggested to me that maybe the choir should mix in some fun carols with their set list. She must have said something to the choir director, too, because that is exactly what they did. The kids were delighted to mix up their last set with some new/old songs, and the seniors loved it, too. I particularly recall two elderly residents, who sang at the top of their voices whenever something familiar was sung by the choir. One was a lady who would sing loudly in between efforts to attract the attention of a rather severe looking care aide who would instruct her to 'sit down!', and the other was a tall gentleman in a reclining wheel chair. With his head dropped down on his chest and his eyes closed, he sang with the voice of someone much younger. Even during the unfamiliar songs he would find a single, repeated word and sing that word out whenever it came up. It was hard not to develop a few tears at such an endearing sight, and I found I was glad I had put aside my relentless to-do list and come.

There was something Dickensian about touring those care homes and singing Christmas carols (the parents sang too) for the elderly and infirm. I sensed a warning to look after myself and my family well, to never forget that I, and my husband too, would eventually grow old and dependant upon others. I thought how important it was to treat others as I wished to be treated, and to always remind my children to be kind, caring, generous, tolerant and considerate of others. I am hardly an Ebenezer Scrooge, but I can learn, as he did, and pledge to "honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach."

"God Bless Us, Every One!"

The above photo was found at The above is a re-post of one I wrote last year. I wanted to share it again, because its message still rings true for me this year. Merry Christmas to all. 

December 10, 2013

A Country Mouse in Metrotown

Yesterday, my husband and I took our two daughters for our annual Skip-school-and-go-Christmas- shopping expedition. We made stops a some of our favourite places and ended our day by venturing into the final frontier of mass consumerism - the largest mall in the Lower Mainland. With three floors of over 400 shops, Metropolis at Metrotown is normally the kind of place I would avoid, but I have to admit, for the purposes of Christmas shopping, it works. For one thing, it has an actual store devoted to the sale of recorded music and movies. Our local CD Plus store closed down a couple of years ago and since then, it has been very hard to avoid ordering the more alternative types of music from Amazon. Most of us in our family have Ipods, but prefer the tangible quality of a CD when it comes down to it. Two of us even prefer vinyl records, and no, those two are not my husband and I.

When we arrived at Metrotown, we chose a spot a which to meet back, armed ourselves with the maps provided by the mall, syncronized our watches - well, not really, but it sounds cool - and separated. Our eldest daughter recently got herself a smart phone, so we decided to call each other if one of us needed more time. Our daughters went off together, and my husband and I began our search for a specialty item for one of our sons. We optomistically thought, in a mall of 400 stores we would find that special item our son desires at a price we could possibly afford, but after our search through at least ten shops we had to give up. We decided to move down our list and had much more success shopping for one of my sisters and her family. Every year my parents act as Kris Kringle Central and my siblings and I are each given the name of another sibling for whom we put a festive parcel together. We like to fill the parcel with locally made items, but there were a couple of things we wanted to give them that we could not make or find locally. While we searched for these things, we had our antennae up for inspired, affordable gift ideas for other people on our list, including our two daughters.

By four o'clock I was bleary-eyed and suffering from low blood-sugar. We met up with our daughters who led us, me practically by the hand, to one of the mall's two Tim Hortons for some sustenance. After a gingerbread muffin and an apple juice I felt somewhat revived. Our eldest daughter, Emma then went off by herself and our youngest, also somewhat revived by a 7UP and a doughnut, came with my husband I to find something for her brother.

Metrotown has a Chapters book store, which is fun to browse and has a fabulous selection in categories ranging from Literary Criticism to Manga. I had an idea of a book in mind, but not a specific title. I found the section I needed and began reading through a number of similar books. After about forty-five minutes I had my selection narrowed down to two choices. Emma came in to meet us, glowing with the success at finding some much needed shoes for herself marked down seventy-five percent as well as several other gifts for friends and family members. I appealed to her for help in making my final choice. She looked quickly through both books, weighed the pros and cons of both and chose the less expensive one. I, led by her confidence and youthful energy, took her advice and bought the one she liked. I had another book in mind and went off in search of it. By then, I was beginning to fall apart. My husband, ever sensitive to my moods - one of the many reasons we are still married - put his arm around me, saying, "It's going to be okay." I explained how I hated shopping when I felt pressured to find the perfect gift. On our budget, we have to make every purchase count and I wanted our gifts to be personal and meaningful. In that overwhelming environment full of masses of manufactured stuff, glittering and vying for the attention of masses of shoppers - and it was only Monday - I was finding it hard to see the value in anything. The fact was I wanted to go home, have a cup of tea and slip into a nice hot bath. Instead, I pulled myself together and found the second book. Our youngest had seen an obscure item we had wanted to find and we went off to get it, applauding her keen eye.

On the way home I sunk into my seat, grateful for the roads which cleared by the time we got over the Port Mann Bridge. For a lightly snowy Monday, the traffic was busy. By Langley we could breathe a bit easier as the traffic spread out a bit. We put on Emma's new Arcade Fire album and my husband turned it up. Just after Chilliwack the snow had started again and little darts of white came at us in the headlights. We made it home in good time and I put the kettle on. Emma had a shower, our youngest had a quick bath, and then I had my bath scented with lavender. My husband caught up with the hockey game on TV.  I climbed into bed and was asleep by 9:30.

Today I have a Metrotown hangover, but the layer of snow is brightening the world outside my window and it's almost warm enough to wear only one pair of pants today. Despite my sense of renewal after a good night's sleep, when I think about yesterday, This is starting to look a little more appealing.

December 3, 2013

Back from NaNoWriMo Land

No, I have not disappeared off the face of the blogging sphere, in case anyone was wondering. As I wrote at the end of October, I was signing up for National Novel Writing Month with a goal of writing 50,000 words of a novel by November 30th. Well, I am happy to report that I achieved my goal and earned the digital badge (above) and certificate (which I had to download and fill out myself), and watched the 44 second congratulatory video featuring the staff at the NaNoWriMo headquarters shouting "You did it!" and other such things. My husband took me out for lunch to celebrate and my kids, as well as my friends and family, cheered. I felt a goodly amount of satisfaction on November 30th, but the reality soon hit me and I still have about a third of the first draft of my book to write, without the motivational help of all the NaNoWriMo hoopla. I got back to my book this morning and slogged away for a couple of hours. It was as hard work as it was all November, even without the daily pressures of a certain word count to achieve, but just as rewarding, and I am determined to round out the plot and get the bones down at least, so I can start revising in the new year. The last thing I want to do is lose momentum. That being said, I also have to get ready for Christmas.

The reason I have not written on my blog, or read the blogs of my fine blogging friends at all since November 1st, is because after I spent two to four hours of my day writing, I did not want to look at the computer screen for any other reason than to catch up with family and my volunteer work colleagues via email or Facebook, and even that I kept to a minimum. I still had to cook and bake and talk to my family. The house was somewhat neglected as was my exercise routine. Writing a novel is very absorbing work. I spent a good part of most nights lying awake in the wee hours of the morning, working out my next scenes before I could go back to sleep. I drank a bit more coffee than usual, but I was honestly high on writing for the entire month. I was as happy as a pig in mud. I have no idea if what I wrote will be appealing to anyone else but me, but I admitted to myself that I am loving this time when it is just the book and me, working together to reveal the characters and the plot. I know I will want to share my book with others at some point, but I am not there yet.

Would I recommend NaNoWriMo to others? I would, but only if they have the basic elements of a novel revving and raring to go on October 31st. On Halloween night, between answering the door to trick-or-treaters - there were so many cute little kiddies at my door this year - I worked at my outline, fattening it up and fleshing it out. I am so glad I did. If I had started the month with no real idea of where I wanted to go with my novel, I may not have gotten as far as I did. Every writer is different, however. Some just need one character in mind to get started, but I am not one of those. I have to 'feel' the novel, and the whole idea of it has to stick and have traction. I did surprise myself on more than one occasion. I would intend for a scene to go a certain way, and the characters would take it in a different direction. I would finish the scene and think, "Now where did that come from?" That is a good feeling, because I was doing as Hemingway advised, which was to let your characters speak for themselves - if you force them, they end up as caricatures. Every second day the NaNoWriMo website would post a pep talk from a published author. I found most of these talks helpful and encouraging, as well as relateable which was encouraging in itself. When writers talk about the inner workings of the job of writing and you relate to it, it makes you feel like a writer, too. Sticking to my goal was a bit gruelling at times, but it was all worth it, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I will visit all my favourite blogs over the next week. I won't hope to catch up, but I am looking forward to reading what everyone is up to.