Tag Archives: singing

The singing life with boys.

I landed in Colorado with Soldier’s family four days ago. The airport and airplane were fun for me and the boys because it was their first experience, and because it was a short trip, to and from smaller airports and on Southwest Airlines which seemed to me much more easygoing and helpful than my usual United travel.

We have been in this Airbnb house in Colorado Springs for four nights. It has plenty of room for three wild Indians (as my mother’s generation would have called them, but I try not to) to race up and down stairs and roughhouse, yelling, shouting, and laughing. If I can get them to sing with me it’s sometimes possible to channel this exuberance into plain laughing, which carries less risk of maiming. 

Sing Through the Seasons from the Plough Publishing House has been for our family a wealth of children’s songs that are joyful music for all ages. I have been singing many of the original 99 songs of the first edition for over 40 years, but I’ve never introduced so many in as short a span as during this last week.

I found a copy of the later edition I had bought used, and brought it along in my suitcase, and the three brothers and I have sat on the couch for long periods singing, “Nibble, Nibble,” “Where Are the Froggies When the North Wind Blows,” and many other favorites. “Trot Along, My Little Pony” by Marlys Swinger was a lullaby I used to sing to the babies, leaning over their cribs to pat them to sleep. Even 2-yr-old Brodie sings in his husky voice with “Nibble, Nibble,” and anticipates the ending when he can chime in with, “And the rabbit in my heart is you!”

Last night while the boys were waiting for dinner I taught them “Three Little Puffins.” They giggled through the song at the idea of puffin birds stuffin’ themselves with muffins, but the giggles turned to hilarity when I started calling them my own Three Little Puffins.

We’ve been on a walk around Palmer Lake just to the north of us in the community with the same name. A few bits of snow were still on the ground from Sunday, the day we arrived right after a snowfall, and I wished I had brought my wool scarf against the wind. We “did school” the very first morning here, because their mother Joy is incredibly organized, and have watched videos on Grandma’s laptop about Deep Sea Fishes, Dragonflies, and How Deep Can We Dig Toward the Center of the Earth?

At the closest public library, in Monument, Joy was able to get a library card, and we brought home lots of books. Not only that, but behind the library is a lake or pond where ducks swim, and the librarians give free cups of cracked corn for feeding the ducks.

At this house there are toys and games; Liam found a turntable Scrabble board and tiles, and wanted me to play with him. I would rather play Bananagrams, but most of his family’s belongings are in storage, so we don’t have that game here. Yesterday he and I drove to Walmart to pick up a few things, including Bananagrams, but the store had just stopped carrying it. I told the salesperson, “I bet Target has it!” We substituted a bunch of bananas, and a new Scrabble game that had all its parts. Liam took to this more complicated word game with enthusiasm. We love words!

I am nearly hoarse from all the singing and reading, but still want to do more, and usually at least one of my “puffins” is more than willing. This evening while dinner was cooking I read to dear Brodie four of his favorite books, including What Do You Hear, Angel?, by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson. It has plenty of repetition to please the child’s ear, but the message conveyed is a fundamental truth of the cosmos that is lifelong sustenance: Things seen and unseen are singing the same song. The illustrations by Masha Lobastov confirm that idea with images of a happy child engaging with, you might say, earthly and heavenly messengers.

That’s what we are living every day.

 

 

 

Heralds and singers all day long.

On the church calendar, we are still in Pentecost, that 50-day period between Easter/Pascha and Pentecost. We even take note of Mid-Pentecost, which was last week.

Of course, it’s never inappropriate to remind one another that “Christ is risen!” but during these weeks we make a special point of it and try to remember, instead of “Hello!” to greet one another with those words of joy and hope. For truly His resurrection from the dead, His overcoming of death, shows the power of God to deliver us from our own patches of darkness, no matter how impossibly deep and cold the current “grave” we find ourselves in.

Last night a robin came around to chirp the falling of dusk to me, “my” robin who always seems to be sent as an emissary from the Father – or more precisely, a herald: Gretchen, remember, God is here with you! I forgot to tell you that in my hotel in Atlanta earlier this month, the night when I was staying alone, a robin chirped right outside my ground-floor window just before darkness and a rainstorm.

This morning I woke to birdsong floating in from the garden and the trees. As I made my bed I joined in with them and sang a meditative version of the hymn, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing Life.”

Next week will be the Leave-taking of Pascha, after which we will focus on the Ascension of Christ. At Vespers the evening before, we will sing all those rousing Paschal choruses for the last time liturgically. I know the little sorrows and worries, confusing thoughts and maybe even some big heartaches won’t disappear from my earthly life, and I will want to keep singing these re-orienting melodies of Christ’s transforming Life.

I’m counting on the birds to be my helpers.

The Music of My Life

The third chapter of The Hidden Art of Homemaking is the impetus for this post. It is titled simply “Music,” and continues the theme of how Christians might express their creativity in their varied and unique circumstances. I am participating in the discussion of the book on Cindy’s blog, Ordo Amoris. This is a long post and I apologize — you would be smart to skip it and go do something creative!

It might have been 30 years ago that I first read Hidden Art, and I wrote on the day of the author’s death how important it was in developing a vision for my life. At the time of its publication in 1971 I don’t think there was anything else like it, but feminists were writing plenty about the stifling life of the typical housewife. It was lovely to have laid out before me many concrete examples of interesting people and their home-enriching activities.

Just a couple of years later, Karen Mains wrote Open Heart, Open Home, which also contributed to my Christian vision, on the theme of hospitality. And I was married in the early 70’s, and enjoying keeping house and garden even before the children started arriving. When the house began to fill with kids, I never lacked for creative projects and plans.

But I hadn’t even read Schaeffer’s book yet. My young-married-childbearing years were overflowing with culture and creativity, and I could not relate to the reader Edith seemed to be writing for, someone who is frustrated, locked up, or unfulfilled (her words).

Only recently have I been able to look back over my life and see with more understanding (I hope) why the story reads the way it does. I needed time to think, and I needed to see more of the plot toward the end, before I could notice how the first chapters fit with middle parts of my saga.

Part I contained an excess of family drama, as we call it these days, emotional and psychological stress that I didn’t get any help dealing with. If you have a splitting headache it is hard to tap into your creativity. It’s the same with emotional pain, maybe more so when it isn’t diagnosed or even acknowledged, but stays like an always-freshening wound that makes you want to move as little as possible.

Me in Part II

What brought me into Part II was getting married to a good man and empowered to create my own story, free of distracting pain. The setting was calm and clear and full of the hope of the gospel. It was somewhat the opposite of what Schaeffer talks about, because being home was my obvious opportunity to do just about anything. I had had no lack of examples and ideas; actually, the hippie era for me segued into a homesteading spirit a la The Mother Earth News. And there were all the creative people I’d known growing up (just about everyone), while I was storing up tinder for my creative fires.

I see that I have mixed a few metaphors here trying to tell my story — or am I writing the score for the symphony that has been playing out? Though this chapter is about music, it seems as good a place as any to bring up what seem to me to be realities on which our artistic life is built. They apply to music, too.

I received little musical training as a child, and I had no career that I had to put on the back burner. But growing up in church was good ear-training, and even in the Girl Scouts and in public school we sang a lot. I was lucky to marry a musician, and by means of his guitar and my singing we filled the house and our children’s ears with music.

We sang in the car, using songbooks I wrote out by hand. We sang around the campfire. We parents sat on the bedroom floor and crooned lullabies to our children every night. And in church I helped the young readers to develop fluency while hymn-singing, running my finger along the page under the words while they looked on. But I don’t know how to read music.

At first there wasn’t money for music lessons, and I wept over the injustice of a world in which my firstborn had no opportunity for a more structured musical education. Then grandparents and great-grandparents stepped in and God provided a generous piano teacher two blocks from our house. From that time forth the provisions continued in various ways, so that eventually all of our five children learned to play at least one instrument. The photos are of them and a grandson enjoying their music. Two of our daughters became piano teachers in their teens.

But for many families, music is not something they can really accomplish. My parents could not provide it for me, but it all worked out o.k. Some women find that their distracting drama only starts when they marry, or when a child falls ill. There are women for whom getting through the day is like climbing a steep mountain, and while they might be relieved to stop and smell the flowers, it’s asking a lot to tell them they ought to get out the seed catalog and develop a plan for further landscaping. But I suppose they aren’t the ones reading Hidden Art.

When Schaeffer says things like, “Christian homes should…be places where there is the greatest variety of good music,” I balk at the word should. I don’t know how she might otherwise have presented a picture of what she considers the ideal home, but every time she says we should do this or that to develop our creative side — and in the short Chapter 2 she used the word nine times — I get annoyed that she is telling me what my Christian duty is.

To me that’s backwards, because I can’t recall ever doing one creative homemaking thing out of a sense of duty, though I firmly believe we are all obligated to do our duty. To fear God and keep His commandments is the whole duty of man, according to Ecclesiastes (Not that we can even accomplish those basics on our own). It seems to me that the rest, the art and music and beauty, flow naturally from a human soul that is nurtured by God’s love — just as sap running up a tree trunk results in bright leaves and colorful fruit. The main thing is not to tell the tree to make fruit, but to keep the connection to the life-giving Fountain — Who is also the One who heals all those diseases of the heart that might hinder us.

What do you know — beauty in our life is one of the healing potions God provides. So if we start with small things that brighten our homes, say, singing a few lines from a hymn over the kitchen sink, or teaching a nursery rhyme to a toddler, just in response to the impulse, we are creating culture and feeding our own souls. It keeps the sap running, and the more the tree grows, the more sap and delicious fruit there will be.

Since Edith Schaeffer wrote this book and What is a Family, the only two of hers that I have read, thousands of families have discovered that homeschooling provides the opportunities to build the kind of family life and culture that the author presents a vision for. Just give us enough time with our children and all these good things are more likely to happen. The vision she sets forth was an ingredient in the soil that nourished my own heart and gave me the courage I needed. All the rest is in Part II, Part III, and still writing… Oh, and still singing new songs!