14 December 2007

Music and Memory

Scientists say that the sense of smell is tied to our memory the most. And I do agree - a whiff of burnt sugar always reminds me of the Christmas markets in Germany on many trips we made there. Baby powder - don't get me started on that one or I'll cry. Even the smell of crude oil - reminds me of when Mike and I started dating and he was a roustabout. But one thing that triggers memory for me more than smell is hearing music - certain songs or symphonies bring back floods of memories. I would wager that most people's taste in music is rooted in memory.

My father-in-law, upon hearing my Rudolf dancing toy sing, said, "Sounds like Burl Ives. I've been trying to find some Cd's of his but can't find any. I just like to hear him." I was thinking "Burl Ives?" But I'm sure there is a story to that and I should ask him about it (by the way, hope he doesn't read this 'cause I found several albums on the almighty amazon.com site for him for Christmas). But it got me thinking (and anything that gets my brain to engage these days is a boon) about why I react to certain music like I do.

To this day, I don't like the theme song from "Chariot's of Fire" mainly because I LOVED it when we first moved to England in 1982 and listened to it over and over and over as I drove around, missing the States, missing my parents, missing things familiar. At the time, I drew strength from that song but over a few months, it became associated with my initial depression with being overseas the first time (my love affair with England had OBVIOUSLY not started yet). So when I hear that song, I automatically feel sad!

On the other hand, anytime I hear Elton John, I feel a bit euphoric! Mike and I dated to a lot of Elton John - he was a favorite artist of Mike's - and I have super-good memory connotations listening to him. Also, symphonies usually make me feel peaceful and help me get focused on whatever I'm doing or conversely help me relax. Turns out my folks played a lot of the Readers Digest music compilations that came on 33rpm records when I was young. And, seeing as I had a stellar childhood, anything that evokes feelings of well being, security and love is always good!

Then there are hymns - can't hear "Father, Here the Prayer We Offer" or "Be With Us Lord" without thinking of our wedding. I chose those songs and changed all the singular to "we" or "us" and to this day think of our commitment made in love to each other 32+ years ago. And the familiar "God Will Take Care of You" and other comforting songs continue to impact me in positive ways. Rousing marches like "Soldiers of Christ Arise!" and "We're Marching to Zion" get my blood pumping. And I also think of rocking my babies to sleep singing every calm hymn in the book to them in the process.

One year, back in the days when we drove to Florida to Walt Disney World instead of flying, the kids were hooked on Beach Boys (and Mike and I had just finished seeing the movie "Cocktail") so that song, whatever it's called, that goes "Aruba, Jamaica, boy I wanna take you to..." - remember it? It became our summer theme song and I associate it with our fun trip to Disney as the kids got older and more independent.

And now it's the holiday season. Everything from Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas" to "We are the Children" to traditional English carols sung by boy's choirs - memory lane is flooded and almost impassable. Also I am tempted to sing those wrongly worded made up versions ("I'm Dreaming of a Pink, Purple, Polka-Dot Christmas" and "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells, Robing Laid an Egg" come to mind) to Ben and Kennedy, but I figure Jen and Megan would kill me so I desist. But they too are part of a huge memory bank of Christmas fun times past for me.

One thing that Tim and I like to do is to take songs and change up the words to suit the occasion. It's a gift or a curse, depending on the person who has to hear it. Mike always says we have a "knack" for it. From the expressions on our other children's faces, I think perhaps it might be a curse. But it's fun to do - mental gymnastics of a sort. I guess that's why he and I enjoy programs like "Whose Line is it Anyway?" and "Mystery Science Theater". But again, it's a memory for me of bonding with Tim on another level as he grew older.

I've been in choirs of one sort or the other in almost every overseas location we've lived in - it was something that helped me get used to my new environment/culture - especially in Trinidad. Singing for me is an expression far more powerful than spoken word. Choir was very competitive in my high school - top choir required multiple auditions and sight reading skills. I was shocked to find out that in other high schools, choir was an "easy A" - not at Coronado High in Lubbock back in the '70s! You had to be on your game, work hard and attend rehearsals weekly outside of school hours to be in the Chorale. And Chorale exposed me to many forms of music and expressions of music - my association with euphoria and music really cemented there. I was relatively shy at that stage in my life and being on stage, singing, put me in a totally different sphere, one where I was confident, competent and happiest of all.

So think about your music and what it means to you. And use music as a tool, actively, to get you out of a funk if you're in one, to rekindle magic, to share a memory with your spouse or children, to share God's love with your little ones, to reconnect to Him yourself. Music is powerful stuff! I think perhaps that's why God commanded us to sing with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs in worship. It's the language of the soul, a language of love. Use it wisely. And enjoy it's immense power.

Happy remembering!

That's MY child!

Yesterday, in a burst of semi-good health (read, "my back wasn't killing me 24/7") I cooked dinner - roast beef with gravy, mashed potatoes (okay, THOSE were Schwan's but if you want a really good semi-instant mashed potato actually MADE with real potatoes, cream and butter - call your Schwan's man/woman and get some of these...but I digress), spaghetti squash and grilled rolls. It was very delicious if I do say so (especially that gravy - will share marinade recipe at end) and Ben really relished the meal. He said several times with great solemnity, "This is a VERY good dinner!" I had also prepared a salad of fresh blackberries, very sweet fresh blueberries and some gorgeous Forelle red pears (if you've never bought them - seek them out! Sweet, delicious, great in salads, for snacking, for DISPLAYING with their gorgeous red color and elongated shape...but I digress...) and realized as we were finishing up dinner that I had never brought it out from the fridge. Jenny said, "Oh well, we can have them for dessert". Well, that got Mr. Ben's ears up as he announced loudly, "I'm ready for dessert".

Pleased that my 3 year old grandson had not only enjoyed a dinner meal (one meal for which he is a notoriously picky eater), he was excited about FRUIT! So I get out the salad and dish it into ramekins and serve it.

Ben looks at it.

Ben looks puzzled.

Ben picks up a piece and sets it down.

"Aren't you going to eat your dessert?" I ask. He picks up a blackberry and frowns and says, get this, "THAT's not dessert! That's FRUIT!"

Jennifer laughed and said, "Mom, that's YOUR child!"

He is. :)

We got out the gingerbread cookies.

Now to the marinade for the best ever roast beef - got this from my Grandma Cottingham (with a few additions of my own)

Get out a measuring cup and slosh the following into it:

about 1/4 cup of soy sauce - Kikkoman is the best for this recipe in my illustrious opine
couple squirts of bottled lemon juice
several dashes of paprika
several dashes of ginger
several dashed of dried mustard - actually, more like a teaspoon
1 teaspoon of sugar (yes, sugar)
a splosh of good balsamic vinegar if you have it
a drink of dry cream Sherry (or white wine if no sherry)
Garlic powder (without salt - I like the kind that is dried and in a grinder)
Fresh cracked pepper

Don't be tempted to add salt - the soy sauce has tons and if you add, you'll be sorry and then drink tea all night and then have to go to the bathroom all night...don't go there....

I use a boneless roast - about 3 lbs or so, the leaner the better. It will still be tender. In a large dutch oven, bring a little olive oil up to heat and braise your roast for a few minutes. Pour the marinade over all and then sprinkle the top of the roast with fresh cracked pepper. Cover and put in preheated oven at 375F for about 2 hours or until the middle of the roast registers around 150-160F. Remove the meat and place in shallow dish, spoon about 1/4 cup of pan juices over all (to keep moist) and cover with foil to keep warm.

In a saucepan, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil (don't let it smoke) and add in about 1/4 cup GRADUALLY of white flour, using a whisk to stir into the oil and thicken. Start adding the cooked marinade left in your roasting pan little by little, stirring all the while until all the juices are used. You should have a gravy that is fluid, coats a spoon well and is deliciously rich and flavorful.

Slice your roast and drain any juices left in your warming pan onto the meat. Put gravy in a pitcher and serve. Leftovers make a GREAT shepherd's pie - if you want, I can tell you how to do that as well.

If you really want to go "whole hog", make yourself some popovers with strawberry butter to go with your roast, potatoes and gravy.

Also, if you are a veggie-cooked-with-meet person, arrange potatoes, onions and carrots in roast pan before cooking. Cook gravy the same way after removing said veg and meat.

May you enjoy your cold winter evenings with good food, family love and the joy of the holiday season!!

The Christmas "Tag"

I've been tagged - by Jenny. I don't think there is anyone else to tag.

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? Definitely wrapping paper - have you ever tried to stack gift bags? It RUINS them! I am spoiled but I love to have coordinating wrapping paper and ribbons that are more or less themed. And never underestimate the wow-factor of a simple ribbon.

2. Real tree or artificial? Artificial. We have had real ones in the past, but between the $70-$100 cost of a good fir tree and the years of finding needles throughout the house in the most unLIKEly places, you can't beat an artificial tree. And then there's the old safety issue. You can always get GREAT oil diffusers to give that "fresh pine" smell.

3. When do you put up the tree? Historically, the tree went up the weekend before Thanksgiving. Our home has been in a couple of charity tours so those years, it all went up in October or the first week of November. For someone who used to start listening to Christmas music in July, this is not an unusual thing to happen.

4.When do you take the tree down? Whenever we get to it. One year, back in 1999 when we lived in Trinidad, I ended up going back to the States with Tim (it was his and Megan's first year at UT) and didn't come back till March - and all that decor was still up. Now, that's a GREAT reason to have the aforementioned artificial tree! I met Megan for the first time at the Houston airport after that Christmas - she met Tim and me at our gate (remember when you could still DO that?!?). Megan came back to Trinidad for spring break and she knew what she was in for with this family when she walked into this home in March, in the Caribbean, to be met by full-blown Christmas decked out house! And she still took us on, bless her.

5. Do you like eggnog? It it's freshly made and alcohol free.

6. Favorite gift received as a child? One? Only one?? I love(d) dolls and Santa never failed me. From Chatty Cathy to Baby Pat-a-Burp to late '50s Barbies, I got dolls. I quit collecting them about the time Kennedy and Ben were born. I had REAL dolls to play with!

7. Do you have a nativity scene? No - we do not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. I know this isn't going to go over well with some people, but Christmas as a religious holiday is a man-made, not God authorized, celebration. It is founded in pagan celebrations to false gods and was "varnished" in the 600's to become "respectable" so that the celebrations people had become used to could continue. I always hear "Jesus is the reason for the season" but while that may be true, it's only so because people made it that way, not God. As we are to neither add nor take away from the Word, we are not at liberty to dictate to God how He is to be worshipped or honored.

8. Easiest person to buy for? Jennifer, the water baby not withstanding - having said that, there isn't any indication that the person actually LIKES what is bought for them - just finding them easy to buy for! :)

9. Hardest person to buy for? Mike's folks

10. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? I frankly can't remember - probably had to do with a fruitcake or something

11. Mail or e-mail Christmas cards? Mail! And I like making them - I'm just not very prompt on getting it done. And I like newsletters as well as long as they aren't the "Dr. and Mrs. Barf" variety. Those kind become fire kindling pretty fast. I really do NOT want to hear that you were mistaken for a student at your high school reunion or that you got a new Mercedes AGAIN for the past umpteen years.

12. Favorite Christmas movie? White Christmas - purely because it is a movie Mike has always wanted to watch every Christmas Eve, no matter where in the world we were.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? Dec. 26th

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? Nope

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Beef Tenderloin, pecan pie

16. Clear lights or colored on the tree? White although I do like colored lights - we've had both but currently have white (or technically "clear")

17. Favorite Christmas song? Anything choral, English and written by David Rutter. One of the highlights of my musical concert attendances was hearing the Kings College Choir perform in London at the Royal Albert Hall - that and the "Messiah from Scratch" concert in the same venue where 90% of the audience is also singing Handel's "Messiah" - chills, really.

18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? When the kids lived at home, we always had Christmas at home, wherever that happened to be. My folks would almost always travel to spend it with us. These days we go where the kids are - sometimes at our home in Katy, sometimes up in the DFW area. We're flexible.

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer? Of course.

20. Angel on the tree top, or a star? None of the above - we have a Muffy Vanderbear up there this year. We've had Snoopy Santa in the past. But now that I think of it, we also have a German wax angel in brocade we got at one of the Kristkindl Markts in Germany.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or Christmas morning? Christmas morning - always!

22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? Getting castigated by denominational friends about me not celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday and then not being given a chance to explain the basis of my own belief system.

23. What I love most about Christmas? That feeling of happiness and hope that MOST people get. There's an air or expectation in the air - people generally seem nicer to each other (except on the freeway - ha!). And I love the traditions - getting out the ornaments and decorations and playing "remember when" - doing things because your mom did them and her mom did them - that sort of thing. The generous spirit is given reign and shines during this time of year. Plus, it's just so much FUN!

11 December 2007

Cheri's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day...

So Christmas cheer took a hit today with me. My back went out on Monday night. I mean OUT! One minute I was "twinging" and the next I was in full back spasm. I get this every now and then but the last time was in May so I feel I've had a good run. So of course, I didn't bring my pain medication with me to Keller this time - no muscle relaxers, no lovely pain meds, not even my moist heat heating pad (I know - I should ice it but heat is good at night when drifting off - or trying to - sleep...) I'd had such a good Monday up to then - my cardiac stress test showed I was healthy as a horse (and about the same size...), I'd had my nails done, a pedicure and the almighty necessary FULL FACIAL WAX! I was on a maintenance roll! Then came the Monday night back meltdown. Which meant my Tuesday was totally wrecked on many fronts. So welcome to my pity party - you bring the chips, I'll bring the dip...oh wait! I can't drive to the store even!!

After waking up at 4:41am not being able to breathe, I slowly pulled upright to make sure I wouldn't immediately spasm again only to realize that I was going to spasm anyway AND I had a full blown sinus infection. I could not breath, I could not stand, I could not get comfortable, Sam I AM! (have you ever sneezed with your back out? - it ranks right up there with transition in labor in my book) I watched TV for awhile and tried going back to sleep. I laid awake then with all the "night demons" that have possessed wives and mothers since the dawn of time ("I still haven't finished my shopping...those things I've ordered have not been delivered yet...I haven't booked tickets for our flights to Disney...nor our rental cars...Christmas is two weeks away...) and on and on and on. I finally fell asleep for about an hour but wish I hadn't because I had nightmares.

7:30am - finally drag my weary and painful bones out of bed and let the dogs out. Great - it's pouring rain. Drenching, wet, the-dogs-won't-stay-out-to-do-their-business kind of day. Also the muddy-paw-prints-everywhere kind of day followed by the oh-yea-my-back-hurts-so-can't-bend-over-and-clean-up-said-doggy-prints kind of day. So I call Mike in Kazakhstan (where it is getting close to bedtime for him 11 hours ahead of me). His day was belly-up too. So no inspiration there from me to him nor him to me. Batting zero.

Pain if standing, pain if sitting, pain if getting up, pain if getting down. Decide to call and see if any of my physicians in this area will give a poor girls some drugs! Nope - have to go into the doctor to get that since it's been a year since I've seen the orthopedist and I'm a new patient with the GP. Sigh...Advil it is then.

Decide if one position is as bad as another, might as well be productive so decide to tackle flights to Disney. Spent 6 hours - yes, SIX hours sorting 4 sets of tickets on a single day from 3 locations to arrive somewhere within an hour's time in Orlando and not spend our retirement. Finally get that sorted out and realize I've put Mirai down as an adult - call American to get her back to "Infant" status and through a misunderstanding (and I think major fault on American's part), end up changing one set of flights incurring an almost $300 change fee that I thought would be only $91. Can't change it or it will cost me another $300. Sigh...wishing my back pain on American...feeling guilty for wishing said back pain on them....sort of....

Jenny comes by with some over the counter meds for me, bless her. Chris offered to go by the pharmacy and pick up any RX's if they came but as previously groused about, none were in the offing.

More rain, doorbell rings 6 times. I'm in gown and am doing the yell through the door thing making everyone think I'm nuts (well, I am but does anyone have to KNOW?) Wet packages left on doorstep - but at least I can mark those items down as "delivered". But I notice that I'm getting up and down easier. Become cautious that maybe this back thing won't be a deal breaker for progress this week after all.

I ended up talking to all the kids today at one point or the other. Start getting excited about Disney now that everything is in place. Still can't get the dog prints off the wood floors. Still can't wrap Christmas gifts since that involves lifting and twisting. Still can't keep Mirai nor lift up Ben in a big bear hug nor Luke either. But I feel the mood lighten as the day closes and I've spoken with the kids, talked several times with Mike, have a chance to sort out my calendar and sort of catch up on a lot of things. So maybe my back was telling me it was time to SLOW DOWN and think about things for once! I'm not an advocate of pain for progress but I have to admit it does have it's uses. I just hope I can sleep tonight and only "twinge" tomorrow. I still have many packages to wrap, menus to plan, gifts to buy, and don't get me started on Quicken - that may well be my entire February. But it will get done eventually - it always does somehow.

But being a woman, I had to share. It's my duty. And you know you privately like to hear of other people's woes - kinda makes you feel better about your life. So I hope I made all of you feel REALLY good today! Ha! Oh, and don't go out to the mail box in 50's weather, barefoot, when it's raining. Not smart, not smart at all...especially after said pedicure...

06 December 2007


Today was momentous in that we had a very special visitor come and see us! None other than "The Man" himself - Father Christmas, Sinter Klaus, Yule Nisse - or, as WE know him, SANTA, dropped by today to visit the grandchildren and spent an hour talking with them, asking them about their wish lists for Christmas, answering their questions about his reindeer and sled (and they had PLENTY of those, I might add!) and making himself at home - IN MY LIVING ROOM! How utterly AWESOME is that!! (or as Jennifer would say - "How-awesome-is-THAT!?")

I always thought Santa was a big, rather boisterous old fellow who more or less "boomed" into a room! Nothing could be farther from the truth - he came in quietly, got on eye level with Ben and Kennedy and greeted them each by name. Then he got down on the floor with them and just made himself at home! Each of the grandbabies woke up at different times from their morning naps so got to meet him one by one. Not a one of them cried, was worried or scared. It was, well, magical!

Anyway, I decided to put in a good word for the old guy - he seemsto get a bad rap sometimes from the older generation of unbelievers. My mantra with MY kids was "if you believe, you receive" and today we sure did!

Merry Christmas ya'll!!

P.S. I really SHOULD give my son, Chris, a shout-out for doing the photography. It's nice to have a professional in the family! You did a GREAT job, son - thanks!